YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia promptly welcomed on Tuesday a historic international agreement to curb neighboring Iran’s controversial nuclear program, expressing hope that it will help deepen Armenian-Iranian commercial ties.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a special statement shortly after Iran, the United States, and five other world powers hammered out a final nuclear deal after marathon negotiations in Vienna.
“This long-awaited agreement is an important achievement that will help to strengthen international and regional stability and cooperation,” Nalbandian said. “We are hopeful that it will give a further boost to the expansion of Armenia’s economic cooperation with friendly Iran and the implementation of bilateral projects.”
Yerevan reacted just as quickly and positively when Iran, the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and China worked out the main parameters of the deal in early April. The final deal envisages a gradual lifting of crippling international sanctions imposed on Iran because of its alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
“The sanctions have inhibited our relations with Iran,” one of Nalbandian’s deputies, Shavarsh Kocharian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on April 3. He said the sanction relief would therefore bode well for increased trade between the two neighboring states.
Armenia’s ambassador in Tehran, Artashes Tumanian, also underlined Yerevan’s strong interest in the lifting of the sanctions in an interview with the Iranian newspaper “Donya-e Eqtesad” given ahead of the Vienna accord. “The economic situation in the whole region would fundamentally change and obviously Armenia too would take advantage of new favorable conditions,” Tumanian told the paper, according to the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
Armenian government data shows that the volume of Armenian-Iranian trade stood at a relatively modest $290 million last year, accounting for less than 5% of Armenia’s overall foreign trade. Armenia also uses Iran as a transit route for trade with other Middle Eastern states and China.
The long-standing sanctions have hampered the implementation of Armenian-Iranian energy projects such as the construction of a $350 million hydroelectric plant on the Arax River separating the two countries. Yerevan and Tehran have also planned to build a new high-voltage transmission line that will enable Armenia to export much more electricity to the Islamic Republic and import larger volumes of Iranian natural gas.
These projects have repeatedly fallen behind schedule because of serious Armenian government restrictions imposed, under Western pressure, on cash operations between Armenian and Iranian banks.
Close relations with Iran have long been a matter of national consensus in Armenia, reflecting the landlocked country’s unresolved conflicts and closed borders with two other Muslim neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Iran as well as Georgia have been Armenia’s sole conduits to the outside world since its independence.