Zarif arrived in the Armenian capital from Baku where he discussed the border dispute with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday.
“We are concerned about the escalations of the last two weeks,” he told Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian during their talks. “We have repeatedly warned that there needs to be restraint and respect for the sovereignty of [regional] countries.”
Zarif said the purpose of his regional trip is to help Armenia and Azerbaijan resolve the dispute peacefully.
“We have emphasized and continue to emphasize that internationally recognized borders and territorial integrity is our red line,” added the chief Iranian diplomat.
The tensions at several contested sections of Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan rose dramatically after Azerbaijani troops deployed there advanced several kilometers on May 12-14.
Yerevan maintains that they are stationed within Armenia’s internationally recognized borders and must be withdrawn unconditionally. Baku says that its forces only took up new positions on the Azerbaijani side of the frontier.
Zarif said that he and Aliyev had a “very detailed discussion” on the issue. “I could feel his intention to ease these tensions and engage in a dialogue towards peace,” he told reporters after the talks with Ayvazian.
“We highly appreciate the fact that the foreign minister of our centuries-old friend and neighbor Iran and my good partner Javad Zarif has arrived in Armenia on a regional visit in these alarming times and circumstances,” Ayvazian said during their joint news briefing. “This testifies to Iran’s sincere intention to try to strengthen security and stability in the region.”
Zarif met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian later in the day. An Armenian government statement said they discussed “steps to resolve the existing situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.” It gave no details.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Pashinian said that relations with Iran are of “strategic importance” to Armenia and that his administration remains committed to deepening them. He said the Armenian-Iranian border has been vital for his country’s national security.
Mojtaba Zolnour, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s committee on national security and foreign policy, also voiced strong support for Armenia’s territorial integrity when he commented on the Armenian-Azerbaijan border standoff last week.
The epicenter of the standoff is Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province bordering Iran and Azerbaijan. Earlier this year, Aliyev threatened to forcibly open a “corridor” connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave via Syunik. Yerevan accused him of laying claim to Armenian territory.
Visiting Yerevan earlier this week, Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami discussed the Armenian government’s plans to rebuild or repair Armenian highways leading to the Iranian border via Syunik.
According to Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Suren Papikian, the two sides agreed to set up a joint working group that will look into Iranian companies’ possible involvement in the planned roadwork.
The Iranian Mehr news agency on Wednesday quoted Eslami as saying that he is satisfied with his “good meetings” held in Yerevan. Zarif likewise described Eslami’s visit as “very successful.”
“I hope that we will manage to establish strong presence in Syunik,” the Iranian foreign minister told Pashinian.
Both Zarif and Eslami also said they look forward to the opening of transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan envisaged by a Russian-brokered agreement that stopped last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. They said Iran expects to have a rail link with Armenia passing through Nakhichevan.