Eslami met with Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Suren Papikian to discuss ways of improving transport links between the two neighboring states.
A statement by Papikian’s press office said he briefed Eslami on the Armenian government’s plans to rebuild or repair key highways passing through Syunik.
The statement said Eslami expressed the Iranian side’s desire to participate in the planned roadwork. Papikian told him that Yerevan is ready to hire Iranian construction firms for that purpose.
Both men were reported to reaffirm their governments’ commitment to an ambitious project to create a transport corridor that would connect Iran’s Persian Gulf ports to the Black Sea through Armenia and Georgia. Papikian also said his ministry is working on a bill that that would sharply cut transit fees for Iranian firms using Armenian territory for cargo shipments to and from the Islamic Republic.
In what may have a related development, the head of Armenia’s State Revenue Committee (SRC), Edvard Hovannisian, met with the chief of Iran’s customs service, Mehdi Mirashrafi, during a visit Tehran on Monday.
According to the SRC, the talks focused on the upcoming modernization and expansion of Armenia’s sole border crossing with Iran. Hovannisian was cited as saying that the new border facilities will facilitate cargo shipments between the two countries and thereby boost bilateral trade.
The talks held in Yerevan and Tehran came amid the continuing Armenian-Azerbaijani border standoff. It began nearly two weeks ago after Azerbaijani troops reportedly advanced several kilometers into Syunik and another Armenian province, Gegharkunik.
Armenia has condemned the Azerbaijani troop movements as a violation of its territorial integrity. Azerbaijan denies such a violation, saying that its forces took up new positions on the Azerbaijani side of the frontier.
The Armenian ambassador to Iran, Artashes Tumanian, discussed the border crisis with Eslami on May 17. Tumanian told the Iranian minister that Yerevan counts on Tehran’s support.
Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian and the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri, also discussed the matter when they met on Monday. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Ayvazian “stressed the imperative of the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces that infiltrated Armenia’s sovereign territory.”
It was announced, meanwhile, that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will visit Baku and Yerevan on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Mojtaba Zolnour, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s committee on national security and foreign policy, voiced strong support for Armenia’s territorial integrity when he commented on the Armenian-Azerbaijani standoff last week. “It would be unacceptable for us if they took away a part of Armenian territory and changed our borders,” he reportedly said.
Syunik borders both Iran and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev threatened recently to forcibly open a “corridor” connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave via the Armenian province.