Agenda of Minister Zarif’s Yerevan Visit
The minister of foreign affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and Armenia exchanged assurances of importance of bilateral relations during his visit to Yerevan. The Iranian minister met with the foreign minister, prime minister and president of Armenia.
Interestingly, during the meetings with Serzh Sargsyan and Karen Karapetyan Zarif said the level of Iran-Armenia economic cooperation is not adequate to the level of political relations. Yerevan spoke about the importance of economic relations but the speech is distinguished for lack of anything specific.
Aside from the talk about forming a free economic zone, in the meetings with Serzh Sargsyan and Karen Karapetyan there is nothing new and no potential opportunities for the Armenian-Iranian economic cooperation. A free economic zone is important indeed but mildly speaking it is a mistake to think that it will be possible to bring the political and economic relations between Armenia and Iran closer to an adequate level.
It is beyond doubt that the point is about two things – gas pipelines and roads. The Iranian foreign minister has announced in Yerevan that Iran highlights the energy and transport aspects of relations between Iran and Armenia. At the same time, Iran has announced repetitively that Tehran does not need the gas for electricity deal but because Armenia needed that, Iran made a friendly move.
The key thing for Iran is the opportunity of a gas pipeline running across Armenia, which will give access to Georgia, the Black Sea and the European market. Transport is in the same Persian Gulf-Black Sea logic. Only in case of substantial projects and discussions will political and economic adequacy be possible.
Are there such issues on the Armenian-Iranian agenda or not? Before leaving for Iran in August Serzh Sargsyan spoke about the transit pipeline in an interview with the Iranian press. He announced that if the interests of all the sides are met, the project will be possible. Sargsyan said that currently it is at the level of expert observations.
It is beyond doubt that Serzh Sargsyan means Russia’s attitude when he speaks about meeting the interests of all sides. However, there is also a conflict of interest between Iran and Russia. Tehran will not wish to connect with Europe via a road which may be controlled by Russia. Hence, the key issue is whether Armenia will control the situation.
The point is the possibility that Russia has a transit road when the pipeline may belong to Gazprom. But is there a guarantee that Gazprom will be a participant, not a decision maker? This guarantee is what Tehran is interested in Yerevan.
It is possible that during the visit to Yerevan the Iranian minister tried to find out what changes have taken place in the context of the EU-Armenia agreement. Will it increase Armenia’s sovereignty or is there some outcome already in place? After all, there are controversial observations relating to Russia’s stance in this context.
On the other hand, the EU’s interest is essential. Is Europe interested in receiving Iranian gas via Armenia and Georgia?
On the whole, it is obvious that Iran continues to demand or expect from Yerevan more dynamics and volume, and Yerevan calls for patience.
Interestingly, a few days prior to the visit of the Iranian foreign minister Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan met with the head of the Iranian gas company. However, the official message on this meeting did not contain anything specific on anything new discussed aside from the deal of exchange of gas and electricity which is no way a serious deal.
The issue of transport is another issue. There are two projects – the North-South highway which is an example of “misery” rather than “splendor” with its dynamics and quality, and the Iran-Armenia railway proclaimed in 2008 which is still on paper.
In addition, interestingly, a few days ago the Armenian ministry of economic development announced about termination of a contract with an obscure company incorporated in Dubai called Russia FZE. A few years ago the government signed a contract with this company which would start construction of the railway from the moment of finding an investor.
A few days ago the ministry announced that Russia FZE did not fulfill its obligations under the contract. This is it, no word about fines, as well as the time taken from Armenia though perhaps the company was not subject to any liability for not fulfilling the contract.
In fact, five years from the futile contract the ministry of transport announced shortly before the visit of the Iranian minister that the railway project will be implemented independently from Russia FZE. No more details. Have the details been discussed during the visit of Mohammad Zarif to Armenia? Or is Yerevan simply calling Iran to be patient?