Armenia will continue to seek closer links with Qatar despite serious sanctions that have been imposed on it by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, a senior government official in Yerevan said on Thursday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian also suggested that Qatar is paying the price for its continuing relationship with Iran, rather than its alleged support for Islamist terrorism.
“It’s a different issue,” Kocharian told reporters, commenting on the sanctions. “It is connected with the situation in the Middle East. It is connected with anti-Iranian sentiment in Saudi Arabia. It is connected with the fact that Sunni Muslim Qatar is not joining the anti-Iranian coalition and is more inclined towards cooperation [with Iran.]”
Armenia has long maintained a cordial rapport with Iran, one of its two commercial conduits to the outside world. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has refused to not only establish diplomatic relations with the South Caucasus state but also formally recognize its independence due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The unresolved dispute with Muslim Azerbaijan has not prevented Armenia from developing ties with other Gulf Arab monarchies, notably the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Both oil-rich nations have embassies in Yerevan.
As recently as in May, President Serzh Sarkisian and Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, reportedly pledged to give “new impetus” to bilateral cooperation when they met during the Armenian leader’s official visit to Doha. According to Sarkisian’s press office, the two men discussed ways of boosting “mutually beneficial trade and economic relations.”
“The Armenian side proposed for consideration a number of investment projects in different areas,” the office said in a statement.
Sarkisian also held separate talks in Doha with the chief executive of the Qatar Airways national carrier, which launched regular flights to Yerevan in May last year. He stressed the importance of the flight service for a growing number of Qatari tourists visiting Armenia. He also said that the Armenian government would welcome Qatari investments in “various sectors of the Armenian economy, including civil aviation.”
In a related development, the Armenian government lifted visa requirements for Qatari nationals on June 1, four days before Saudi Arabia and its allies cut diplomatic and other ties with Qatar, accusing it of sponsoring extremist militant groups active in the region.
“We will carry on with our policy largely relating to tourism promotion,” Kocharian said on Thursday. “Qatar is only one of the states. We will liberalize [the visa regime] with six more states soon.”
“Our policy and relations with Qatar must not be linked with the events happening in Middle East,” he stressed.
Asked about the implications of the sanctions, the Armenian official said: “This issue is beyond our scope.”