Political Will: Leaders of Armenia, Iran discuss prospects of cooperation amid lifted sanctions

Armenian and Iranian presidents, Serzh Sargsyan and Hassan Rouhani, on Sunday discussed in a telephone conversation the prospects of cooperation between the two neighboring countries after the lifting of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

According to the Armenian president’s press service, the two sides agreed that “any issue can be resolved through negotiations as long as there is political will to do so.”

The Iranian president reportedly underscored his country’s readiness to work actively towards the strengthening of good-neighborly relations, close partnership, expanding and deepening cooperation with Armenia. During the phone conversation, the two leaders also agreed the timetable of forthcoming visits.

Armenian experts are still wondering whether Rouhani’s visit to Armenia announced as back as 2012 will actually take place in 2016. The visit, according to experts, has repeatedly been postponed due to lack of a substantive agenda of negotiations – Armenia has refused from closer cooperation with Iran, and not only because of Western sanctions, but also because of binding relations with Russia.

Now that the sanctions have been lifted the question is whether the parties have the will for cooperation. And this cooperation can be in many areas, even the most unexpected ones. For example, today many Iranian citizens wishing to travel to the United States for visas travel to Yerevan, since there is no U.S. diplomatic representation in Iran. But now Iran and the United States are negotiating about the establishment of air links, and it is possible that now the citizens of Armenia will travel to Iran in order to fly to the United States because there are no direct flights to the United States from Armenia.

There are also other areas of cooperation. Armenian Minister of Transport and Communication Gagik Beglaryan, who was on a working visit to Iran last week, met with Minister of Communications and Information Technologies of Iran Mahmoud Vaezi. The two countries are considering expansion of e-commerce through postal services.

Beglaryan also met with Iran’s Minister of Transport and Urban Planning Abbas Akhoundi. The sides discussed issues related to the creation of a corridor between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, in particular the construction of a Julfa-Yeraskh railroad. “We intend to sign agreements that will make it possible to take Iranian goods to the Black Sea,” said the Armenian minister.

“Negotiations on the issue of a Julfa-Yeraskh railroad have been conducted with Armenia and we need to reach agreement on the funding,” said Akhoundi.

The shorter and more convenient rail link between Iran and Armenia that passes trough Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhijevan has been blocked by Baku since the start of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s. Some experts hope that the international community and Iran might be able to “coerce Azerbaijan” to unblock regional communications. However, prospects of a Karabakh settlement still remain vague.