Iran’s top political leaders praised their country’s warm relationship with neighboring Armenia and called for it expansion on Monday as they met with the visiting Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
Nalbandian met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran for talks that focused on bilateral economic ties and regional security. They also discussed the continuing crises in Ukraine and Syria.
“President Rouhani described Tehran-Yerevan relations as historical and cultural and stressed that the two countries have a good potential for the expansion of their cooperation,” reported the official IRNA news agency.
“Our relations with Armenia have been long-lasting and quite cordial,” another Iranian news agency, Mehr, quoted Zarif as saying at a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart. “Our countries have a relationship based on mutual respect and national interests and take similar positions on the international stage.”
“We discussed political, parliamentary, cultural, and economic relations and possible ways to expand ties in transportation, energy, and banking sectors,” said the chief Iranian diplomat. He stressed the significance of those ties to Tehran.
According to IRNA, the two foreign ministers discussed ways of “reactivating” the Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation which oversees the implementation of joint energy projects. Officials said earlier this year that the commission will meet in Tehran in May. Nalbandian and Zarif would not say whether the meeting will go ahead as planned.
The commission is expected to discuss the repeatedly postponed construction of a major hydroelectric plant on the Arax river marking the Armenian-Iranian border. Iran’s ambassador to Armenia, Mohammad Reisi, has blamed the delay on serious restrictions imposed by Yerevan on cash operations between Armenian and Iranian banks because of the international sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Reisi said on March 17 that the ongoing easing of those sanctions bodes well for the launch of the $350 million project this year.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) two days later, then Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said that the two governments will soon start negotiating on the possibility of dramatically increasing deliveries of Iranian natural gas to Armenia.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Zarif and Nalbandian discussed “steps to be taken for the implementation of various joint projects.” Those include not only the hydroelectric plant but also the ongoing construction of a third transmission line connecting the Armenian and Iranian power grids as well as ambitious plans for building an Armenia-Iranian railway. A ministry statement did not say whether they reached any concrete agreements to that effect.
The two ministers also spoke about the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Nalbandian reportedly again thanking Tehran for its “balanced” position on the dispute. Zarif, for his part, “reiterated Iran’s gratitude for Armenian support for the Islamic Republic of Iran in international politics,” reported Mehr. “We also discussed the developments in Ukraine and Syria,” added Zarif.
Also on the agenda were Tehran’s ongoing negotiations with the West aimed at resolving the long-running dispute centering on its controversial nuclear program. Nalbandian was quoted by his press office as welcoming an interim agreement that was reached by Iran and six world powers last November. He expressed hope that they will work out a “comprehensive settlement” soon.