TEHRAN (RFE/RL) — President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed Iran’s desire to deepen relations with Armenia “in all areas” on Sunday as he oversaw the signing of an Armenian-Iranian agreement on visa-free travel between the two neighboring nations.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian signed the agreement with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif after holding talks with Rouhani during an official visit to Tehran.
The deal lifted visa requirements for Iranian nationals visiting Armenia and vice versa. The Armenian government gave the green light to the mutual visa waiver on Thursday, saying that it will boost bilateral ties and attract more Iranian tourists to Armenia.
The official Iranian IRNA news agency said the deal signed in Rouhani’s presence “is the result of significant progress in Iran-Armenia relations made in the past few months.”
“The Islamic Republic President … called for promotion of ties between the two states in all areas in the post-sanctions era,” it said in a separate report on Rouhani’s meeting with Nalbandian. “He underlined that Iran and Armenia have similar positions on regional and international developments,” it added.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry likewise quoted Rouhani as praising the “strong” Armenian-Iranian relationship and saying that the recent lifting of international sanctions against Tehran opened up new opportunities for it further expansion. The two governments should take “practical steps” to boost bilateral commercial ties, he said, according to a ministry statement.
According to IRNA, Rouhani also reiterated that Iran is seeking to “connect the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf through Armenia.” The Iranian leader discussed the matter with President Serzh Sarkisian in a phone call in January.
Armenian Transport Minister Gagik Beglarian said after visiting the Iranian capital later in January that Yerevan and Tehran are considering creating a new transport corridor that would connect India to Europe via their territories. Beglarian said they believe that cargo shipments can be carried out through the Persian Gulf, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Black Sea.
Nalbandian was reported to assure Rouhani that the Armenian side is ready to “draw up and implement new, more ambitious projects” with the Islamic Republic.
The Foreign Ministry statement said Nalbandian also briefed the Iranian president on recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He praised Tehran’s “balanced position” on the dispute.
Iran was quick to express serious concern at the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting in and around Karabakh. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan urged an immediate end to the hostilities when held separate phone talks with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts on April 3.