TEHRAN—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan arrived in the Iranian capital on Wednesday for a state visit that included meetings with Iran’s Supreme Spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, as well as the signing of memoranda of understanding that will bolster relations between the neighboring countries.
Pashinyan, who is accompanied on this trip by his wife, Anna Hakobyan, also brought a delegation of high-level government officials, among them Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
The official delegation was greeted by President Rouhani at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, where a full-court military procession welcomed the Armenian visitors.
The ceremonial potion of the trip quickly turned into business when Rouhani and Pashinyan met at the Saadabad Palace to discuss furthering relations between the two countries, that have enjoyed an unimpeded alliance since Armenia’s independence.
The focus of the discussion between the two leaders was bolstering the already beneficial energy cooperation between Tehran and Yerevan. Armenia currently provides Iran with electricity in exchange for a flow of natural gas into Armenia.
To that end, Pashinyan and Rouhani highlighted the construction project of a third 400-kilowatt Iran-Armenia power transmission line, which will enable enhancing electricity and gas exchange volumes between the two countries, thus contributing to the development of economic relations and expansion of regional cooperation in this sector.
The construction a of hydroelectric power plant in Meghri, a plan that has been in discussion for years, was also discussed with the two leader agreeing to take practical steps to advance the project.
The sides concurred that the bilateral trade turnover volumes aren’t as high as the level of political relations. They said that both countries should do their best to enhance bilateral trade volumes and boos mutual investments.
In this context, Pashinyan spoke about the Armenian government’s actions that are aimed at making the investment climate more favorable and attractive.
In terms of boosting bilateral and regional commercial ties, the sides attached importance to the ratification of the Eurasian Economic Union-Iran agreement by parliaments. Pashinyan and Rouhani expressed confidence that this deal will create new opportunities for maximally boosting trade-economic relations between Armenia and Iran. They said it would be useful to conduct exhibition fairs of Armenian and Iranian products and organize business forums in Tehran and Yerevan after the agreement enters into force completely.
The development of international transportation corridors was highlighted as an important sector of cooperation, as well as the possible participation of the Iranian side in the construction of individual sections of the North-South Road Corridor in Armenia.
When the two leaders met with the larger delegations, that included the energy and transporation ministers from both countries, key aspects of cooperation in those spheres were emphasized.
Pashinyan and Rouhani also emphasized the active work of the Armenian-Iranian inter-governmental commission and agreed to conduct its next session this summer. They also spoke about opportunities for boosting partnership in agriculture and enhancing volumes of meat exports from Armenia to Iran.
Opportunities to elevate cooperation in IT, healthcare, tourism, environmental protection and humanitarian sectors were also discussed.
Pashinyan emphasized that the Armenian-Iranian cooperation is contributing to strengthening of regional peace and stability and added that Armenia appreciates Iran’s balanced stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process.
Pashinyan and Rouhani concurred that a comprehensive and long-lasting resolution of the Karabakh conflict is possible through a peaceful means, in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group – the only internationally recognized structure dealing with the conflict resolution.
In this context, the sides also exchanged views on other issues of regional significance.
At the end of the meeting the Armenian and Iranian leaders tasked their cabinet members to continue active discussions in their respective sectors in order to develop concrete agreements until the upcoming inter-governmental sitting.
At a joint press conference following the meeting, the two leaders expanded on their discussion. Rouhani praised Armenia’s leveled stance on the United States sanctions imposed on Tehran and said he hope to advance plans to link the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea via Armenia, a project envisioning a transit routes (railways and roads) stretching from Bandar Abbas in south of Iran to Batumi in Georgia.
“The Iranian side expressed readiness to participate in [the North-South] project. Facilitations in the transportation system, in particular, as it relates to truck routes, is the main focus. We have also touched upon the agriculture sector. The Iranian side is ready to cooperate in this sphere, develop the activity of slaughterhouses in Armenia and etc.,” Rouhani told reporters.
“At the meeting with Mr. Prime Minister we expressed satisfaction over Armenia’s position toward the sanctions imposed on Iran. The goal of our two countries is to push forward in accordance with our interests and not to allow any third country to interfere in these projects and cooperation,” Rouhani said.
“I want to state that the most important point is that both countries have a desire, potential and will to develop the relations,” concluded Rouhani.
In his remarks to reporters, Pashinyan emphasized the EEU-Iran agreement, which he said would facilitate free trade with that bloc’s member counties, which Armenia is a part.
Pashinyan pointed out that the EEU-Iran deal “will enter into force during our terms. This will open new opportunities for enhancing our trade turnover and for the business communities of our countries. And we must encourage our business communities to use these opportunities.”
“The President of Iran mentioned that there is willingness by Iran to enhance the volumes of gas supplies to Armenia. Here, of course, it is important for us to be able to reach a common denominator regarding the price during future discussions and talks. This is a principally important issue in terms of the deal’s appeal. And we are hopeful that our representatives will conduct productive negotiations in this directions,” Pashinyan said, pointing out the importance of Iran-Armenia energy cooperation, as well as the need to view bilateral relations in a broader context and implement projects that will have regional significance s.
“Armenia is ready to conduct transit cooperation with Iran and be a transit country for Iranian gas. The creation of energy corridors has also important significance both bilaterally and regionally, and in a broader sense. For the solution of these issues a political will exists, and we must hope that the process of bringing it into practice in the negotiations will be conducted successfully,” explained Pashinyan.
Meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei
President Rouhani accompanied Pashinyan to the meeting with Ayatollah Khamanei, who, having been briefed about the talks between the two leaders, expressed his support for the development of the multi-faceted Armenian-Iranian relations. He particularly highlighted the expansion and promotion of the Armenian-Iranian economic partnership.
Pashinyan highlighted the changes in Armenia brought about by last spring’s popular movement, as well as the December Parliamentary elections that saw his “My Step” alliance win a majority. Khamanei said that he has attentively followed the developments in Armenia and praised the peaceful nature of the regime change that took place.
The two also discussed the latest developments regarding the Karabakh conflict resolution process, as well as mutual concerns they share about regional issues, with both agreeing that a lasting resolution of the conflict was only possible through peaceful means.
Meeting with Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani
Pashinyan also met on Wednesday with the speaker of Iran’s parliament—the Majlis—Ali Larijani.
The two highlighted the need for furthering cooperation between the countries’ legislatures, as a means to bolster and foster ongoing cooperation between Armenia and Iran.
Larijani said expressed the parliament’s willingness to advance the issue of a free trade agreement between EEU and Iran and the ratification of the document by the parliaments were touched upon.
President Rouhani hosted a state dinner for Pashinyan and the Armenia delegation. The prime minister is scheduled to travel to Isfahan on Thursday.