Armenian-Iranian Border is of Strategic Importance

9 m.   |  2021-06-18
Iranian expert: Iran will categorically oppose to any kind of encroachment on the territory of Armenia.  

In this article we will present an interview with Vali Kaleji, researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies of the Iranian President’s Office and an expert on Central Asia and Caucasian Studies, touching upon Iran’s position on the situation in the region after the 44-day Artsakh war, prospects for the development of Armenian-Iranian relations, the approach of the Iranian side to the reality of Azerbaijan’s violating the state border of the Republic of Armenia and upon other issues.

-Recently, we have witnessed mutual visits of Armenian and Iranian officials. The parties intend to expand bilateral cooperation. In your opinion, what obstacles and opportunities are there for the development of Armenian-Iranian relations?

- Yes, in recent months we have witnessed the visits of various Iranian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Mohsen Baharvand, Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami, CEO of Iran Railway Company Saeed Rasouli and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In response to these visits, Minister of Economy of Armenia Vahan Kerobyan and Chairman of the State Revenue Committee Edvard Hovhannisyan also visited Iran. Currently, those contacts and negotiations are very necessary.

We can point out the factor of unilateral US sanctions during the presidency of Donald Trump on Iran-Armenia cooperation issues and obstacles, which caused a malfunction in the banking relations between Armenia and Iran, hence the Yerevan branch of Mellat Bank failed to carry out banking transactions between Armenian and Iranian merchants as before. We hope that the current negotiations in Vienna will yield results, and with the US return to Nuclear Deal and lifting of sanctions, the banking problems between Armenia and Iran will also disappear. Other issues include the COVID-19 pandemic, which has negatively affected the relations between the two countries in the field of trade, tourism and education. We hope that public relations between the two countries will normalize at the end of the vaccination process in Iran and Armenia. The land route between Armenia and Iran, that is the road from Meghri to Yerevan, also needs serious attention and reconstruction. The issues of those mountain roads have negatively affected the trade between the two countries.

As for the cooperation opportunities, it should be noted that there are a number of important areas. Armenia is the only Christian neighbor of Iran, Armenia is a gateway for Iran to enter the EEU market. In October 2021, the preferential trade agreement between Iran and EEU will turn into a free trade agreement, so Iran and Armenia should be ready for the event in the fields of infrastructure, transit, customs and banking. Gas and electricity exchange programs are very important and I hope that after a few years of efforts and investments both countries will achieve results. The cooperation between Meghri and Norduz free economic zone is also very important. We hope that the Government of Armenia will accelerate the development of Meghri FEZ infrastructures

Other important areas of cooperation between Armenia and Iran include Communication and IT, agriculture, livestock and industry. Boycott of Turkish goods in Armenia and the proposal of the Armenian Government to replace 2200 items with Iranian ones are a good opportunity to strengthen bilateral trade and economic cooperation. As you know, the ban project on Turkish goods started operating since January 2021 and will end in June. Taking into account the capabilities of the two countries, it would be better to expand the period by another 6 months, until the end of 2021.

Trade turnover between Iran and Armenia is about $300 mil. and due to the initiative of the Commission on Economic Cooperation between the two countries this volume may increase. Between June 10-13, Iran held an exhibition in Armenia related to 6 areas, including energy, engineering, knowledge-based companies, food industrial towns and agriculture, which can greatly contribute to the presentation of Iranian companies’ opportunities and capabilities to the Armenian society.

- Azerbaijan has violated Armenia’s state borders in Syunik, Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor regions, occupying some territories. Iran has stated that territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia is a red line for him. In this regard, how can Iran support Armenia?

- Being a neighbor of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran is deeply concerned about the escalation of tensions between Baku and Yerevan. The immutability of internationally recognised borders has been Iran’s permanent position and this was stated by high-ranking officials of Iran both during the Karabakh war and during foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Baku and Yerevan. In my opinion, if Armenia and Azerbaijan have disagreements over the interpretation of point 9 of the ceasefire statement, it would be better to eliminate that uncertainty by continuing the trilateral talks with Russia.

The signing of an additional agreement can help to clarify this situation. Iran can also support that, and this issue was discussed during Zarif’s recent visits to Yerevan and Baku.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Mohsen Baharvand, who visited Armenia in March, on his way back he met with the Governor of Syunik Pelikset Poghosyan in Kapan and visited Armenian-Iranian border. This shows that the 38 km. Iranian-Armenian border is important for both sides.

Iran has 15 neighbors and we need all our borders with all neighbors. That’s why Iran will categorically oppose any possible encroachment on the territory of Armenia and the possible restriction and threat of the Armenian-Iranian border for any purpose, including the fulfillment of point 9 of Karabakh ceasefire agreement and for the establishment of a communication corridor (Zangezur corridor) between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan. By signing additional agreements, the way will be paved for the opening of communication routes in the South Caucasus, which will be in favor of peace, stability and development of all countries in the region.

As I mentioned at the meeting with the President of Azerbaijan and foreign researchers on April 14, 2021, 750 km border between Iran and Azerbaijan and 38 km border between Iran and Armenia are of strategic importance to our country. We hope that controversies over the interpretation of point 9 of the ceasefire agreement will be resolved with the restraint, wisdom and foresight of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and through the continuation of bilateral and multilateral negotiations and consultations.

-How did the situation after the 44-day war affect Iran? What new challenges arose for Iran? What is Tehran’s official approach to this issue?

 - During the Second Karabakh War, due to Iran’s geographical proximity to Jabrayil, Fizuli and Zangilan, more than 132 km of Iranian border was under the direct influence of this war, and many shells and missiles appeared in the villages of Ardabil and Eastern Atrpatakan. Nevertheless, according to me, the results of the 44-day Karabakh war weren’t completely negative for Iran. Iran has an opportunity to complete the construction of Khudaferin reservoir and hydropower plant, 2200 Iranian goods have replaced Turkish ones at the suggestion of the Armenian Government. What’s more important, it is planned to restore the Soviet-era railway in the South Caucasus, thus providing an opportunity for Iran to have a railway link with the region three decades later. Unfortunately, Iran is the only country, which lost its railway connection with the Caucasus after the first Karabakh war. Thus, the launch of the Tabriz-Julfa-Nakhichevan railway and then the Yerevan-Tbilisi route, is one of the important opportunities created for Iran and Armenia in the post-war period, and I hope that by settling the contradictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the point 9 of the ceasefire agreement, we will be able to launch this route in 3 decades. In my opinion, if we approach the issue realistically, the restoration of the railway is the only factor that can be the core of cooperation between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and on the other hand, Iran, Russia and Turkey, and be a starting point for the implementation of “3+3” format. The railway networks can play the same role for Armenia and Azerbaijan, as coal and steel did between Germany and France after the World War II.

-Iran wants to launch the corridor connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea through the territory of Armenia. Besides there is a desire to pass a part of the North-South corridor through the territory of Armenia. What is the reason for this interest of the Iranian side?

 - Diversification of transit routes is one of the key priorities of Iran’s foreign policy in the Caucasus. In this regard, in parallel with the Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia communication route, Iran wants to pursue the launch of the Persian Gulf- Black Sea corridor through Armenia and Georgia. As I have already stated, the restoration of the Tabriz-Julfa-Nakhichevan and from there the Yerevan-Tbilisi route will be a very important step to bring this corridor to life, which can replace the Yerevan-Meghri railway, which is very costly and hasn’t been built even after a decade.

-Presidential elections in Iran are scheduled for June 18. How can its results impact on foreign policy, particularly on its relations with Armenia?

 -The election of the President of Iran will be held on June 18, and the snap parliamentary elections in Armenia on June 20. Thus, the political field of the two countries will witness important events in the coming weeks. However, on the Iranian side, regardless of who becomes the next president of the country, it is unlikely that there will be a change in the approach of its neighbors, including Armenia. The first link in Iran’s foreign policy is the neighbors and whoever is president, Iran should work with that first link. Therefore, under Iran’s next government, there may be a change in an approach towards Europe and the USA, but change in neighboring countries including Armenia is unlikely. We hope that the Armenian society will also get out of this political deadlock of recent months due to the forthcoming important election. There is no doubt that a weak and unstable Armenia is not in favor of peace and stability of the Caucasus and as a neighboring country, it is very important for Iran to have stability and peace in Armenia. Hope, that after the election of the President of Iran and snap parliamentary elections in Armenia, the relations between the two countries will develop even more than before.