The business community in Armenia has been encouraged by the news of an agreement reached between Iran and six world powers over the weekend that they hope will boost their trade and economic ties with the neighbor to the south.
The so-called P5+1 countries, including Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany, have agreed to suspend most sanctions on gold and precious metals and on Iran’s petrochemical exports in exchange for Tehran’s commitment to halt all uranium enrichment above 5 percent and to neutralize its existing stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium below 5 percent within six months.
The agreement described as ‘historic’ both in the West and in the Islamic Republic and hoped to clear the way for a comprehensive settlement also evoked a positive reaction from official Yerevan as Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was quick to issue a statement, calling the outcome of the Geneva talks “good news” for the region and the whole international community.
Armenia relies on Iran as one of only two available gateways to the rest of the world (also including Georgia) in conditions of the continuing blockade of its borders by Turkey and Azerbaijan because of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Iranian-Armenian cooperation in recent years has been hampered by the Western sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Arsen Ghazarian, head of the Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen (Employers) of Armenia (UMB(E)A), believes that the outcome of the talks in Switzerland potentially opens the way for the Armenian business community to work more actively on the Iranian market and establish links with the Far East via Iran.
“We have always been willing to become one of the transit routes to Iran and farther to the Far East,” Ghazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The head of the leading Armenian business association referred to the new modern highway now under construction in Armenia that would connect its border with Georgia in the north to the southernmost point at the frontier with Iran.
“If the current situation was to be preserved, we would not know after the competition of the North-South road corridor construction project how goods were supposed to be going through Armenia in conditions of tougher sanctions imposed on Iran… In this sense, for Armenia Iran’s agreement with the international community is as important as for Iran itself,” said Ghazarian.
The UMB(E)A head said that because of the international sanctions against Iran no shipping company would offer services at Iran’s Gulf port of Bandar Abbas during the past year. “As a result, we have had to shift all our freights to the Georgian sea ports of Poti and Batumi,” explained Ghazarian.
According to the Armenian businessman, the ban on Iran’s banking system also limited Armenia’s trade with its southern neighbor and the removal of most of the sanctions by the West will also enable Yerevan to restore trade with Tehran in its former amount. Ghazarian suggested that over the past year the Armenia-Iran trade turnover has fallen by as much as 50-60 percent.