YEREVAN — Iran and Armenia may soon lift visa requirements for their citizens travelling to each other’s country, according to the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Mohammad Reisi.
In an interview with the ArmNews TV channel aired this week, Reisi also announced that Iranian President Hassan Rohani will travel to Armenia later this year on an official visit that will underscore close ties between the two neighboring states. “The visit will take place in the course of this year,” he said without specifying a concrete date.
President Serzh Sarkisian was among a dozen foreign heads of state who attended Rohani’s inauguration in Tehran last August. The two leaders held separate talks following the ceremony. Rohani was reported to tell Sarkisian that the Islamic Republic is keen to expand its “deeply-rooted” ties with Armenia.
Rohani’s predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, paid an official visit to Yerevan in late 2011. It focused, in large measure, on the implementation of Armenian-Iranian energy projects that had fallen behind schedule. Those include the construction of a hydro-electric plant on the Arax river serving as the Armenian-Iranian border.
Reisi implied that Rohani’s visit will come after the next meeting of an Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. He said the commission should discuss not only the energy projects but also ambitious plans to build a railway connecting the two countries.
“The best indicator of Armenian-Iranian mutual trust is that the visa regime between the two states may well be abolished,” Reisi added in the ArmNews interview. “In order to facilitate contacts between the two peoples, we have communicated to the Armenian side our readiness to put in place a visa-free regime.”
Tehran has long been seeking visa-free travel between Armenia and Iran. Successive Armenian governments have been lukewarm about the idea.
The existing visa requirements have not prevented a sharp rise in the number of Iranian tourists visiting Armenia over the past decade. It reached a record-high level of more than 100,000 in 2011.
“I hope that one day one million Iranian tourists will visit Armenia,” then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said during a November 2011 trip to Yerevan. “I also hope that one day a visa-free regime will be established between the two countries and crossing our border will be as easy as travelling inside our countries.”