Southern Gateway: Armenia hails lifting of sanctions from Iran

Armenia has welcomed the lifting of Western economic sanctions against Iran, with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian saying that Armenia is interested in deepening friendly cooperation with the Islamic Republic.

On January 16, in Vienna, United States Secretary of State John Kerry, and Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated about the cancellation of sanctions against Iran.

The historical agreement was signed between Iran and the six powers - Russia, the U.S., China, Great Britain, France and Germany in Vienna last July. Under this agreement Iran pledged to use nuclear facilities exclusively for peaceful purposes and not to create nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the nuclear agreement with superpowers a “golden page” in the country’s history, saying it was made possible thanks to the support of the Iranian people and experienced diplomats.

“The start of the implementation of the agreement and the lifting of sanctions open up lots of opportunities for Iran’s economy. We will direct new investments to the country’s economy, and it will change the economic picture,” said President Rouhani.

Amir Hossein Zamanini, Deputy Oil Minister for International Affairs at Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, said on January 17 that Iran plans to add the volume of oil exports by 500,000 barrels per day. This has already affected international oil prices that have fallen below $28 per barrel.

The volume of funds that Iran will get as a result of the removed sanctions and the unfreezing of its assets abroad is expected to amount at almost $55 billion.

According to experts, this also opens up good opportunities for Armenia, as Iran is considered to be a southern gateway for Armenia. But for this, they say, official Yerevan should carry out a “coherent and consistent policy”.

Ara Papian, the head of the Modus Vivendi Center in Yerevan, says that 400 out of 600 Iranian companies have been freed from sanctions and many international companies have started to reopen their offices in Tehran.

“The Armenian Foreign Ministry must direct our businessmen, make arrangements with major Iranian companies and take businesspeople from Armenia to Iran to meet [relevant partners there]. Given its geographical location, Armenia’s role will increase, because the only convenient way of traveling to the West remains Armenia,” said Papian.

Economists have predicted that the lifting of sanctions from Iran will allow Armenian goods to enter the Iranian market of 80 million people. Iran may provide alternative and less expensive energy supplies, especially natural gas.

“The list of those products that we can export to Iran is very limited. That is, serious work should be carried out in that direction, and a niche should be found where our exporters can be accommodated, because we actually have not got so many things to offer to Iran. Whereas they have things to offer to us,” economist Babken Tunyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

“We can benefit more by carrying out joint projects with Iran, rather than by exporting some products at the moment,” he added.

According to the National Statistical Service, Armenia-Iran trade in 2015 amounted to about $250 million, almost 6 percent of Armenia’s foreign trade, which makes Iran the fourth largest trade partner of Armenia.