Armenia will maintain its close relationship with neighboring Iran despite renewed U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Tuesday.
“We need to develop relations with Iran very intensively and they must be mutually beneficial,” Pashinian told reporters, commenting on the impact of the sanctions on Armenian-Iranian ties.
He said he sees “no need to make any changes” in Armenia’s policy towards Iran. “We should not only maintain the good level of our relations but also try to raise them to a new level,” he stressed.
Pashinian said that the U.S. administration “understands our situation and policy.” Having good relations with the United States is also “very important” to Armenia, he added.
A team of officials from the U.S. state and treasury departments visited Yerevan last week to explain the sanctions re-imposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year to Armenia’s government and private sector. No details of their meetings were made public.
Iran was also high on the agenda of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s October trip to Armenia. Bolton said he hold Pashinian that the Trump administration will enforce the sanctions “very vigorously.” Commercial and other traffic through the Armenian-Iranian border is therefore “going to be a significant issue” for Washington, he said.
Speaking in the Armenian parliament a few days after his talks with Bolton, Pashinian made clear that his government will maintain Armenia’s “special” relationship with Iran.
The premier on Tuesday did not deny reports that some Armenian commercial banks have started closing the accounts of Iranian citizens, most of them Armenian descent, living in Armenia. He insisted that those private banks are not acting on his government’s orders. He suggested that they have commercial operations with the U.S. and do not want to be sanctioned by Washington.
Pashinian met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when he visited New York in September to address a session of the UN General Assembly. The two leaders discussed ways of expanding Armenian-Iranian trade and reaffirmed their support for joint energy projects planned or already implemented by the two states.
With Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran as well as Georgia serve as the sole conduits for the landlocked country’s trade with the outside world. Armenia also imports Iranian natural gas and other fuel.