Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September

Pashinyan Rules Out Change in Armenia’s Policy on Iran


YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia will maintain its close relationship with neighboring Iran despite renewed US sanctions against the Islamic Republic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Tuesday, November 20.

“We need to develop relations with Iran very intensively and they must be mutually beneficial,” Pashinyan told reporters, commenting on the impact of the sanctions on Armenian-Iranian ties.

He said he sees “no need to make any changes” in Armenia’s policy towards Iran. “We should not only maintain the good level of our relations but also try to raise them to a new level,” he stressed.

Pashinyan said that the US administration “understands our situation and policy.” Having good relations with the United States is also “very important” to Armenia, he added.

A team of officials from the US state and treasury departments had visited Yerevan the previous week to explain the sanctions re-imposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year to Armenia’s government and private sector. No details of their meetings were made public.

The US Embassy in Yerevan said the “subject matter experts” from the US departments of state and treasury met with senior Armenian government officials as part of Washington’s efforts to “explain US sanctions policy against Iran to governments around the world.”

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“They also met with the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Armenia as well as with private banks, members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia, and Armenian academics and think tank experts,” read an embassy statement.

“The delegation emphasized US efforts to change the Iranian regime’s malign behavior through maximum economic and diplomatic pressure, while also outlining areas for cooperation with partners like Armenia,” it added.

Armenian government bodies issued no statements on the discussions with the visiting US officials.

Iran was also high on the agenda of US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s October trip to Armenia. Bolton said he told Pashinyan that the Trump administration will enforce the sanctions “very vigorously.” Commercial and other traffic through the Armenian-Iranian border is therefore “going to be a significant issue” for Washington, he said.

Speaking in the Armenian parliament a few days after his talks with Bolton, Pashinyan made clear that his government will maintain Armenia’s “special” relationship with Iran.

The premier on Tuesday did not deny reports that some Armenian commercial banks have started closing the accounts of Iranian citizens, most of them Armenian descent, living in Armenia. He insisted that those private banks are not acting on his government’s orders. He suggested that they have commercial operations with the US and do not want to be sanctioned by Washington.

Pashinyan met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when he visited New York in September to address a session of the UN General Assembly. The two leaders discussed ways of expanding Armenian-Iranian trade and reaffirmed their support for joint energy projects planned or already implemented by the two states.

With Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran as well as Georgia serve as the sole conduits for the landlocked country’s trade with the outside world. Armenia also imports Iranian natural gas and other fuel.

“Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process,” Bolton said in an interview in October. “So I think conversation between the government of Armenia and the United States is going to be very important.”

Speaking in the Armenian parliament a few days later, Pashinyan said he made it clear to Bolton that his government will maintain Armenia’s “special” relationship with Iran. “We respect the national interests of any country, but the Republic of Armenia has its own national and state interests which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries,” stressed Pashinyan.

Bolton tweeted after his visit that Armenia is an “important friend” of the United States.

Accordingly, both the current and former Armenian governments have supported a 2015 multilateral accord on Iran’s nuclear program that led to the lifting of the US sanctions. Trump unilaterally pulled out of that deal earlier year.

Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan commented on the move’s possible impact on the Armenian-Iranian relationship in an interview with the Russian TASS news agency published on Friday.

“For us, this is a highly sensitive issue because Iran is an important partner of Armenia with which we have … a bilateral agenda extremely important to Armenia,” said Mnatsakanyan.

US officials have yet to publicly say which Armenian-Iranian commercial operations, if any, could be affected by the renewed sanctions.

According to official Armenian statistics, Armenian-Iranian trade stood at $263 million last year. Pashinyan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed ways of expanding it when they met in New York in September.

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