Iranian FM visits Armenia, discusses Armenian-Azerbaijani border tensions, expansion of Iran's economic presence in the country
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited Armenia and discussed the situation at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border with the Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan. The conflict at the border escalated after Azerbaijani Armed Forces advanced their positions several kilometers into the territory of Armenia on May 12, and refused to withdraw despite Yerevan’s repeated calls.
The Iranian Foreign Minister arrived in Yerevan from Baku, where the tensions at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border was also discussed.
During the meeting with the foreign minister of Iran, Ara Ayvazyan stated that the encroachment on the territorial integrity of Armenia is a consequence of an inadequate international response to Baku’s actions during the second Karabakh war in the fall of 2020.
During negotiations with acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke about Iran’s intention to expand its presence in the south of Armenia, in the Syunik region by means of implementing several economic projects there.
Prior to FM Zarif’s visit, Armenian experts predicted that security issues would dominate the agenda of negotiations with Armenia’s top officials since “it is not in Iran’s interests to put its border with Armenia at risk”. However, Armenia’s expert community also agreed that the importance of the expansion of Armenia’s economic cooperation with Iran cannot be overlooked either.
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Iran is ready to provide assistance to Armenia
The Iranian foreign minister stressed that Tehran calls for a peaceful solution to the problems in the South Caucasus which would be implemented with full respect for the territorial integrity of countries and the rights of peoples involved.
At the same time, FM Zarif stated that Iran is ready to offer assistance in resolving the tensions at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border:
“We are very concerned about the recent escalation. We have warned the parties to exercise restraint. The purpose of this visit is to help resolve this tension. Yesterday I had a detailed conversation [about it] in Azerbaijan, today I discussed some very important issues with you. […] I hope that we can find a way out of this situation. We emphasize that internationally recognized borders and territorial integrity are our red line”.
Expanding Iran’s presence in Armenia
During the meeting with the acting prime minister of Armenia, the Iranian foreign minister also the issue of the ongoing escalation at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Nikol Pashinyan has once again voiced the position of Yerevan, stating that the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan must leave the sovereign territory of Armenia.
PM Pashinyan also stressed that Armenia is determined to resolve the crisis by political and diplomatic means, and the country’s partners at the Collective Security Treaty Organization call for the same:
“You know that according to the charter of the Collective Security Treaty, military actions on the territory of our country will lead to the involvement of other CSTO member states. […] Unfortunately, I must say that yesterday an Armenian soldier was killed as a result of shooting carried out by the Azerbaijani military”.
While talking about the bilateral economic ties, Pashinyan and Zarif discussed the free trade zone, created on the border with Iran, in the Syunik region. It has not yet realized its full potential due to the pandemic-induced restriction but it can become an important platform for enhancing economic cooperation between the two countries.
“I hope that we will be able to ensure an active presence in Syunik in the near future. I had a strategic dialogue with my Armenian colleagues and at the first opportunity our representative will come to Armenia to continue this dialogue”, FM Zarif said.
He also spoke about the Iran-Nakhichevan-Armenia railway, which, from the point of view of the Iranian diplomat, can be extremely useful for the countries in the region.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to Armenia and Azerbaijan is a direct result of the tensions at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Iranianist Garik Misakyan believes:
“The situation in Syunik has become the subject of serious discussions in Iran. We have already heard several statements about the inviolability of internationally recognized borders, we have witnessed a rather tough reaction of some Iranian circles to the actions of Azerbaijan. We can say that the Iranian Foreign Ministry, seeing that this issue has not been resolved, is trying to get better acquainted with the situation, find out the official position of the parties, and make the official position of Iran known”.
Misakyan says that strengthening of Turkish influence in the region is not at all in the interests of Iran:
“Iran’s statements say that no actions should impede the normal functioning of the Armenian-Iranian land border. […] In this respect, Iran’s position will be very different from that during the 44-day Artsakh war. There will be toughness on the issue of borders and Turkish influence in the region. Iran will try to expand cooperation with Armenia in all spheres”.
The expert considers it important, in particular, to strengthen economic relations and even cooperation in the military sphere:
“There are quite a lot of meetings between the Iranian ambassador to Armenia and the Armenian ambassador to Iran on military issues. In other words, Armenia can count on multilateral relations and assistance from Iran. The involvement of Iran in the construction of the North-South highway has geopolitical significance [ the railway will connect the northern and southern parts of Armenia with the south and the construction of it began in 2012 but is not yet completed, therefore, Iran intends to participate in this project – JAMnews].
In order to implement all these programs, Iran needs a peaceful Syunik ad it, therefore, needs to resolve issues related to the borders of Syunik as soon as possible – either on its own or with the help of its allies”.