27-28 in February of this year Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan visited the Islamic Republic of Iran for the first time in a two-day official visit. The agenda, judging by the scarcity of information in the open press, was being worked out until the last moment and during the visit it covered the widest range of issues.
Within the framework of the visit, official meetings of the Prime Minister of Armenia with President of Iran Hasan Rookhani, chairman of the Mejlis (parliament) Ali Larijani, governor of Isfahan Abbas Rezai took place. Also N. Pashinyan in his residence was received by the supreme spiritual leader of the country Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There were mass meetings in Ararat sports and cultural centers with representatives of the Armenian communities of Tehran and Isfahan, in which the Armenian Prime Minister made speeches and in an open format answered questions related to the actual problems of Armenia's domestic and foreign policy.
The results of the visit remain the focus of the Armenian expert community and, with varying degrees of optimism, are perceived as the success of the new Armenian diplomacy.
Armenia's relations with Iran, taking into account the closed Armenian border with Turkey and Azerbaijan due to conflicts, have an existential significance for Yerevan. Let's add that over the last two hundred years Iran has not been conducting wars in the region.
In view of the specificity and complexity of the "fabric" of relations, it is expedient to consider the current moment fixed in past meetings in Iran in the following interconnected conditional contexts:
In Yerevan and Tehran, there is a general understanding that Armenia-Iran relations are of strategic importance, they have enormous potential, which for the most part remain unfulfilled because of various reasons for their neutralization. It is noteworthy to assess the potential of relations and perceive their current level of implementation in the statement of the Iranian president during a joint press conference with Pashinyan: "There is very good cooperation between our countries, there are high-level political and cultural ties, cooperation in the field of education, tourism and other sectors. . We want cooperation in other areas to be high. From the point of view of economic cooperation, there is a great potential that should be better realized. " From the Armenian side, readiness for expansion of relations is expressed, taking into account their high political level: "The discussions that we are holding at the moment give grounds to say that our visit is successful, and we note with mutual observation that in our actions we must proceed from the logic of strengthening our friendly relations and their atmosphere ", - said the prime minister of Armenia. Meeting with the spiritual leader of Iran, which, taking into account the country's domestic political system, is the highest sign of recognition of the importance of relations, as well as the range of issues that was raised during the Pashinyan-Khamenei meeting, testifies to mutual serious intentions in the development of bilateral cooperation.
Undoubtedly, a new stage in the Armenian-Iranian relations also has a regional dimension. Iran has played and plays a balancing and stabilizing role over the entire post-Soviet period in relation to the South Caucasus, maintains equal and good-neighborly relations with the countries of the region, besides having a common border with the Nakhichevan Autonomy of Azerbaijan, as well as with the unrecognized Nagorno Karabakh Republic (Artsakh Republic ) At the beginning of the 1990s, Iran undertook an intermediary mission to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and throughout the entire post-Soviet period, it has repeatedly stated that the conflict is not a military solution, military action is unacceptable. During the four-day war in April 2016 on the very first day, Tehran issued a statement calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities and returning to the negotiating table, thereby demonstrating a rigid rejection of any military development near its northern border. During the meeting, Armenian Prime Minister and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed that "a comprehensive and long-lasting settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is possible only by peaceful means." In his turn, Nikol Pashinyan, during a meeting with President Rookhani, emphasized that Armenian-Iranian cooperation contributes to strengthening peace and stability in the region, adding that Armenia highly appreciates the balanced position of Iran in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Trade and economic context
The volume of trade between Armenia and Iran in comparison with the potential and political level of relations remains low - just over 250 million dollars (2018). During the meetings, the sides expressed their intention to take concrete steps towards its sharp increase. In light of this, the Ministry of Economic Development and Investment of Armenia signed two memoranda of understanding - with the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran and with the Supreme Council of Free Trade, Industrial and Special Economic Zones of Iran.
At the frontier with Iran, under the former regime, a Free Economic Zone was created in Armenia, but in fact it is a poorly fenced territory, one office building, missing investment projects, as well as a number of land disputes around the zone between different entities that have not been received solutions. This is accompanied by an unsatisfactory state of automobile communication.
It is clear that much needs to be started "from scratch" to overcome the extensive regime in trade relations, which has completely exhausted itself. At the moment, the Government considers the priority to attract Iranian investments into the Armenian economy, and there are already first results: in particular, the opening of export-oriented composite gas cylinders in Vanadzor in the north of Armenia focused on exports to Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
Transport and energy
One of the main successes of the visit is an agreement on intentions on gas issues. In particular, it was mutually stated that the intention was to increase the volume of supplies of Iranian gas to Armenia. Armenian PM noted that it is important during the further discussions and negotiations to reach a general agreement on the issue of its price. Taking into account that negotiations between Armenia and monopoly Gazprom after cancellation of discounts in 15 dollars for 1000 cubic meters. m (at the border with Georgia, the cost of gas with 150 has increased to 165 dollars) continue, the Armenian side is currently expecting from the Iranian side the low-cost offers.
Moreover, Armenia is ready to cooperate with Iran in the transit issue and become a transit country for Iranian gas. "The creation of an energy corridor is also important both in the bilateral and regional context, and in the broader context. There is political will to solve these issues, and we hope that the negotiation process will be successful, "the Armenian PM said during a joint press conference with the Iranian president.
In addition, in the energy sector between Armenia and Iran, a gas exchange project for electricity in the ratio of 1 cubic meters. m gas per 3 kWh of electricity is mutually beneficial and has potential for expansion of volumes. During the talks, issues related to the construction of the Meghri hydroelectric power station on the border of the Araks border, whose design power is 100MW, was also raised. The station is scheduled for joint use, however, after the ceremony of the bookmark the case has not moved from place.
The visit also touched upon the completion of the construction of a third power transmission line between the two countries.
The Iranian side also expressed readiness to take part in the construction of the highway north-south connecting the Iranian border of Armenia with the Georgian. Moreover, President Rookhani emphasized that this issue is in the center of attention of the Iranian side. The subject is considered in the light of his idea of creating a corridor connecting the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea.
Relations between the United States and Iran are not the best of times, unlike the first years of Rookhani's presidency. The United States, after the withdrawal from the agreement between Tehran and the "six", announced its intention to sharpen the sanctions against Iran, which undoubtedly could create obstacles to the development of Tehran's relations not only with Armenia but also with other interested parties.
Iranian banking institutions, as well as economic entities associated with CIDR, have limitations on the possibilities of economic activity abroad through the sanctions regime. However, a significant segment of the Iranian economy remains outside the scope of sanctions. In addition, exceptions have been made for a number of international projects with Iranian participation that are of significant regional importance and also affect livelihoods, in particular, it concerns large-scale supplies of Iranian gas to Turkey, hydrocarbon projects in Azerbaijan, reciprocal trade with Iraq, Qatar and etc.
Thus, it seems that the Armenian side will have an important round of consultations with the representatives of Washington to ensure that joint projects with Iran are protected against possible sanctions. And the main thing is to show the real picture that the expansion of cooperation with Iran contributes to the diversification of the Armenian economy, is not directed and can not be directed against American interests; Yerevan does not cooperate with Tehran at the expense of Armenia-US relations, which for Armenia have strategic significance.
The difference in approaches to the agreement with Iran between the United States and the largest EU member states is also reflected in the Iranian context of Armenia-EU relations.
First of all, the fact that directly or indirectly, but allocated by the EU together with the World Bank (WB) 700 million euro will be directed on strengthening of transit potential of Armenia. In particular, according to the document, for the construction of the Artashat-Agarak (border with Iran) section of the highway "North-South" will be allocated 450 million euros. An 41 million euro will be allocated for the reconstruction of the Gyumri-Baura section (border with Georgia), another 7,5 million euro will be allocated for the repair of the Yerevan-Vanadzor highway. The EU and the WB also plan to allocate about 15 million euros for the modernization of the Meghri border point on the Armenian-Iranian border.
In addition, it is foreseen to create in the EU a new alternative payment mechanism INSTEX SAS (Trade Support Instrument). It is about "a special target mechanism aimed at facilitating legitimate trade between European economic operators and Iran," which was announced by a joint statement by the heads of foreign ministries of Germany, Britain and France 31 in January 2019 year.
This opens up wide opportunities for Armenia. It should be assumed that during the two-day working visit of Nikol Pashinyan to Brussels 4-5 in March of this year his Iranian agreements can definitely raise the political significance of possible agreements with the European Union and the EU's interest in Armenia and the region as a whole.
A number of Armenian and foreign experts in their comments hurried to "construct" various "triangles" of Yerevan and Tehran with Moscow in the hot pursuit.
In fact, the Iranian agreements of the Armenian prime minister - not only "not about Russia" - also disrupt the "traditional" paradigm of Armenia's relations with Russia, which was formed under the presidency of R. Kocharyan and S. Sargsyan, highlighting the interests of Armenia's development, for the realization of which is the best What Russia can offer - it does not interfere.
In Armenia, whose membership in the EAEC (as well as the absence of a common border with its other members) is a reality, there are opportunities for overcoming protectionist barriers both in terms of the market of the EAEC and in the Iranian stumbling block. "For us, as the country's chairman of the EAEC, it is important that the ratification of the free trade agreement between the EPP and Iran takes place in parliaments. In all likelihood, the agreement will come into force during our chairmanship. This will open up new opportunities for increasing our trade turnover and for the business circles of our countries. And we should encourage our business circles to use these opportunities, "said Nikol Pashinyan.
Regarding the transit of Iranian gas through Armenia, it seems that there is a general understanding that for the Russian gas the Armenian direction is deadlocked. Taking into account the initially small volumes of consumption, the Russian side will constantly be inclined to raise the price of gas, while the Armenian will not allow it, which is fraught with the opportunity to spoil relations. Therefore, the transit of Iranian gas seems to be a kind of "third way", which has the potential for compromise of interests. However, a serious negotiation process is required to finalize the issue. It is clear that the transit of gas from Iran to Georgia proceeds from the interests of energy security and diversification of energy supplies both in Armenia and Georgia, which the Russian side can not but take into account.
Minister of Economic Development and Investment Tigran Khachatryan immediately after the visit of the prime minister to Iran in a conversation with journalists assured that it is possible to, at least, double the import of Iranian gas. At the moment, neither the official Moscow nor Gazprom have responded to the statements of the leaders of Armenia and Iran about their intentions on gas, although Russia in the post-Soviet period considered Iran as its competitor with its colossal hydrocarbon resources.
Telecommunication Technology Context
In the light of the fact that in the fall of this year The World Information Technology Forum (IT) will take place in Yerevan, and the Iranian side has shown great interest in this rapidly expanding sphere in Armenia. And she is not alone. Within the framework of the visit, a trilateral document was signed on the construction of a high-fiber trunk line connecting Qatar, Iran and Armenia with Europe. "This is not only a business, but also a program of strategic importance related to the security of telecommunications," noted Alexander Yessayan, co-founder of the UCOM company, who signed the document from the Armenian side. Also during the visit, the Minister of Telecommunications and Technologies of Iran received an invitation to the World Forum in Yerevan.
Format 2 + 1
For Armenia and Iran there are a number of sensitive topics regarding the relations between one or the other with other countries. At the same time, there is a general understanding that these relations are not directed and can not be directed against third countries. Moreover, the general vision of a number of key issues, trust in motives and intentions in relation to each other and the geographic factor open wide opportunities for bilateral cooperation and synchronization of interests with new partners.
The potential in this regard for the most part remains unused. Nevertheless, relations in the format 2 + 1 with Georgia, the EU and certain European countries, in particular - Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, are most promising. We should also highlight prospects with Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq, India.
During the visit, an agreement was reached on consultations in trilateral format with Georgia on the issue of gas transit. And also in the quadripartite format with Georgia and Russia on electricity supply. Moreover, the Iranian side initiated consultations.
During the entire post-Soviet period, the official Tehran has not succumbed to calls for Islamic solidarity with Azerbaijan against the background of Baku's desire to present the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also to the interreligious. Moreover, Iran has always advocated inter-confessional dialogue, denied the existence of a religious factor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and, with a number of other Muslim countries, opposed the confrontation of religious content during various Islamic summits.
During the visit to Iran, the Armenian PM visited the ancient capital of Iran - Isfahan, where, along with the governor, visited not only one of the largest Christian churches of the Middle East - the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Christ of All Ascension (1664), but also the main mosques of the city - the Imam Mosque and the Mosque Sheikh Lotfellow. Against this backdrop, the very fact of the meeting of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Prime Minister N. Pashinyan is already self-evident in terms of Iran's firm commitment to its principled position, which Armenia also fully shares.
The further course of Armenian-Iranian relations will in many ways become an indicator of the seriousness of the intentions of the new Armenian government in implementing the five-year program adopted by the National Assembly on the eve of the day, which, according to Prime Minister Pashinyan's description, is a "program of economic revolution."
Any bilateral relationship is a "two-way street", and each side has its own "homework".
How much and at what level of quality it will be fulfilled in conditions of growing uncertainty of the surrounding world - the time will tell. Obviously, a new stage of relations has come, and there is a general understanding that the Armenian-Iranian relations have strategic significance for both sides, and the intention to develop them is stated at the highest level and in the most binding manner.
Ruben Mehrabyan, expert of the Armenian Institute of International Affairs and Security (AIMOB), editor of the Russian-language version of the "Aravot", Yerevan, Armenia