Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with President Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders on Tuesday during a visit to Yerevan that appeared to focus on ongoing efforts to expand Armenian-Iranian economic ties.
He arrived in the Armenian capital with a large group of Iranian businessmen who held a one-day conference with fellow entrepreneurs from Armenia. Zarif and his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian opened the forum before holding talks.
“There are quite good opportunities for expanding economic relations between the two countries,” Zarif told an ensuing joint news conference with Nalbandian.
“Energy and cargo transit are very important areas of our cooperation with Armenia,” he said. “We also attach importance to our cooperation on science and technology.”
Nalbandian said, for his part, that they discussed ways of increasing bilateral commerce and preparations for next month’s meeting in Yerevan of an Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. In that context, he stressed the importance of a planned free-trade deal between Iran and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union which is strongly backed by Armenia.
According to official Armenian statistics, Armenian-Iranian trade stood at a relatively modest $197.4 million in the first nine months of this year. It was up by 10 percent from the same period in 2016.
Zarif was reported to tell Sarkisian later in the day that the current scale of Armenian-Iranian business dealings “does not befit the high level of political relations between the two friendly nations.” The two men agreed on the need to “bolster economic ties and develop mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas,” reported the Armenian presidential press office. It said Zarif called Armenia a “very good neighbor” of Iran.
Economic issues dominated Zarif’s separate meeting with Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. They discussed, among other things, the upcoming launch of a free economic zone in Armenia’s southeastern Meghri district bordering Iran. According to an Armenian government statement, they agreed that the tax haven for manufacturing firms could give a major boost to Armenian-Iranian business ties.
The statement added that Armenian-Iranian energy projects were also on the agenda of Karapetian’s talks with the chief Iranian diplomat. But it did not elaborate.
Karapetian met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and Energy Minister Sattar Mahmoudi when he paid an official visit to Tehran in October. He reportedly discussed the possibility of a trilateral deal that would enable Armenia to import cheap natural gas from Turkmenistan via Iran. No concrete agreements to that effect have been announced so far.
The Armenian premier on Tuesday described his trip to Iran as “quite promising.” “Armenia’s government is extremely interested in qualitatively changing and raising our trade to a higher level,” he told Zarif.