Against the background of growing international sanctions against Iran, Armenia continues to strengthen its cooperation with Tehran, saying that there can be no regional stability without Iran.
Following the adoption on June 9 by the UN Security Council of new tighter sanctions against Iran, U.S. Congress approved the American plan of sanctions and the European Union is still discussing them.
“I understand that in light of sanctions against Iran, some will react skeptically to my approach, but I am sure that in regional solutions one should not and cannot ignore Iran,” said Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan during his visit to Germany earlier this month.
Answering the question about the possible impact of UN sanctions on cooperation between Armenia and Iran, the Islamic Republic’s Ambassador to Armenia Seyed Ali Saghaeyan said that they are not mandatory for compliance: “Each country is free to decide how to act – whether to comply with the sanctions regime or not.”
The Armenian side should not accede to the anti-Iranian bloc or join the regime of sanctions against Iran, but, as a minimum, Armenia should assume the role of a mediator for finding a solution to the Iranian problem, says Hayk Balanyan, a member of “Sardarapat”, a recently launched movement pushing for the establishment of an alternative parliament in Armenia. According to him, the Armenian side has every reason not to adhere to sanctions against Iran, as with the tacit connivance of the international community Armenia is in a blockade and has no alternative to cooperation with Iran.
Balanyan noted that at present the interests of Yerevan and Tehran coincide. “The Iranian ambassador to Armenia said that Tehran categorically opposes the deployment of American peacekeepers in Karabakh and the deployment of Turkish military bases in Nakhijevan. This means that a change of the status quo in the region is not favorable either for Tehran or Yerevan,” he said.
Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said: “The Iranian and Armenian peoples are centuries-old friends. We are ready to continue cooperation.” For his part, President Sargsyan pointed out the importance of mechanisms of economic cooperation in overcoming political differences.
Construction of a North-South highway, a strategically important transport corridor, is expected to begin next spring, Armenia’s Minister of Transport and Communications Manuk Vardanyan told the media on June 28. In December 2010 Armenia intends to sign a $90-million loan agreement with Asian Development Bank for the second phase of the program.
Iran’s ambassador to Armenia speaks about a 40-percent rise in the commodity turnover between Armenia and Iran reported for the first quarter of this year. And on June 18 Yerevan hosted the second Armenian-Iranian business forum, which also discussed investment opportunities in Armenia.
Despite the fact that Iran is an immediate neighbor of Armenia, in 2009 the trade turnover between Armenia and Iran, as compared to 2008, decreased by 32.7 percent to $153.4 million. In 2009, Armenia exported to Iran goods worth $19 million, while importing commodities with a total worth of $134.4 million. In 2009 exports from Armenia to Iran fell by 24 percent. The issue of the construction of an Iran-Armenia railway remains unsettled, and the already available Iran-Armenia gas pipeline is not in use.
Member of the initiative group of the movement “Sardarapat” Tigran Khzmalyan believes that the current Armenian-Iranian relations have become a long chain of missed opportunities, and, he claims, this is due to external pressure on Armenia. As an example he cited the saga with the fifth power unit at the Hrazdan Thermal Power Plant. Iran had proposed to complete its construction at the cost of a preferential loan of $160 million, but instead the Armenian government chose to transfer the facility to Russia as the latter’s property, and, at a price that is twice as low.
The influence of the political factor on economic relations with Iran is very important. Some experts believe that Armenia, increasing cooperation with Iran, needs to be careful lest it should be subjected to sanctions itself.
By Naira Hayrumyan