Iran and Armenia can deepen their relations despite the U.S. economic sanctions against Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a visiting senior Armenian official on Wednesday.
Meeting with Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian, Rouhani reaffirmed his country’s commitment to joint energy and transport projects planned or already implemented by the Armenian and Iranian governments.
“The people of Iran have had a very good and sincere relationship with the Armenian people historically and culturally, and the two countries, in addition to being neighbors, have very high levels of cooperation,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
Rouhani said they should step up that cooperation despite the “illegal” U.S. sanctions. “I have no doubt that we are the ultimate winner in this unjust confrontation [with Washington,] and it is in this situation that close work with our neighbors will be remembered in history,” he added, according to another Iranian news agency, ISNA.
Rouhani already declared after talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in February that Tehran and Yerevan “will not allow any third state to interfere in our cordial relations.”
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton discussed with Armenian leaders the sanctions’ implications for Armenian-Iranian ties during an October 2018 trip to Yerevan. Bolton said Washington will be enforcing them “very vigorously” and that traffic through the Armenian-Iranian border will therefore be “a significant issue.”
Pashinian made clear afterwards that he will maintain Armenia’s “special relationship” with the Islamic Republic.
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 diesel fuel.
Grigorian met with Rouhani one day after co-chairing with Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian a meeting of an Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. According to an Armenian government statement, he told the Iranian president that the two sides reached understandings on “expanding cooperation in a number of areas of mutual interest.”
The statement shed no light on those agreements. It said that implementation of joint energy projects was high on the agenda of Grigorian’s talks with Rouhani.
One of those projects is the ongoing construction of a third high-voltage transmission line that will connect Armenian and Iranian power grids. The Mehr news agency quoted Ardakanian as saying on Monday that it will be completed next year. The new line will allow the two countries to almost triple mutual supplies of electricity, said the Iranian minister.
Iran currently pays for Armenian electricity with up to 500 million cubic meters of gas supplied to Armenia annually. The bulk of Armenia’s overall gas imports totaling over 2 billion cubic meters come from Russia.
In Ardakanian’s words, the Iranian side is ready to increase gas supplies and also accept other Armenian “goods” in payment for them.
According to official Armenian statistics, Armenia’s trade with Iran soared by over 40 percent but still stood at a relatively modest $364 million in 2018. Armenian officials hope that a preferential trade agreement signed by Iran and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) last year will help to boost it.
Rouhani was reported to praise that deal, saying that it is a “good opportunity for us” and that Armenia could “play a very good role” in facilitating his country’s trade with Russia and other members of the trade bloc. He also suggested Armenia and Iran use their national currencies to boost bilateral trade.