Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian reaffirmed on Friday his government’s stated intention to maintain and even deepen Armenia’s cordial relations with neighboring Iran.
“We will make utmost efforts to further develop bilateral partnership,” Pashinian told the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Seyed Kazem Sajjad.
“We are interested in giving new impetus to Armenian-Iranian ties on the basis of mutual interests,” he said in remarks publicized by his press office.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani likewise called for closer ties between the two nations when he phoned Pashinian a week after the latter was elected Armenia’s prime minister on May 8. An official Armenian readout of the phone call said the two leaders agreed to “further deepen mutually beneficial partnership in all areas.”
A statement by Pashinian’s office said the Armenian premier and Sajjad discussed the implementation of bilateral energy projects, including the ongoing construction of a new power transmission line and long-standing plans to build a hydroelectric plant on the Armenian-Iranian border. It said they also touched upon broader commercial ties, with the Iranian ambassador stressing the importance Iran’s provisional free-trade agreement with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) signed last month.
Pashinian was quick to hail that deal, saying that it “fully” reflects Armenia’s national interests. “We hope that it will stimulate our commercial ties [with Iran,]” he told reporters on May 17.
Armenian manufacturers have long complained that the Islamic Republic’s protectionist policies severely limit their access to the Iranian market.
According to official Armenian statistics, Armenian-Iranian trade stood at a modest $263 million last year. The authorities in Yerevan hope that a free economic zone created near Meghri, an Armenian town on the Iranian border, last December will also boost it significantly.
The Iran-EEU deal was signed just days after the United States decided to re-impose economic sanctions on Tehran after pulling out of a 2015 international agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. Rouhani and Pashinian reportedly discussed implications of U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial move.
In its comprehensive policy program approved by the Armenian parliament on Thursday, Pashinian’s government pledged to seek the kind of “special relationship” with Iran which would be “immune to other geopolitical influences as much as possible.” The program says Armenia will at the same time seek to bolster its “friendly partnership” with the U.S.
Due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the resulting closure of Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey, Iran has long been one of the landlocked country’s two commercial conduits to the outside world. Successive Armenian governments have therefore been keen to maintain a warm rapport with Tehran.