WASHINGTON, DC (RFE/RL) — The United States should not pressure Armenia to cut commercial ties to neighboring Iran because of U.S. sanctions against Tehran, parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan has said during a visit to Washington.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, on Monday, Mirzoyan said that the standoff between the U.S. and Iran is already having a negative impact on the Armenian economy.

We don’t want the United States to put pressure on Armenia for joining in its Iran sanctions agenda,” the Armenian service of the Voice of America quoted him as saying. “Armenia cannot pay such a price.”

Mirzoyan argued that Iran serves as one of his landlocked country’s two conduits to the outside world due to closed borders with the two other Muslim neighbors: Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The Armenian speaker, who is a close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, commented on the “very interesting and heated discussion” at the Atlantic Council on his Facebook page on Tuesday. “I informed American partners that our economy is suffering losses due to the sanctions against Iran and that we cannot stop buying Iranian gas,” he wrote.

Iran has supplied up to 500 million cubic meters of natural gas to Armenia annually over the past decade. The latter pays for it electricity supplied to the Islamic Republic.

Iranian officials offered to expand this swap arrangement when they held talks with Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan in Tehran earlier this month. Grigoryan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service last week that Yerevan is interested in boosting Iranian gas imports.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton discussed the U.S. sanctions with Pashinyan during an October 2018 trip to Armenia. Bolton said Washington will be enforcing them “very vigorously” and that traffic through the Armenian-Iranian border will therefore become a “significant issue.”

In November, a team of officials from the U.S. state and treasury departments visited Yerevan to explain the sanctions to Armenia’s government and private sector. Pashinyan made clear afterwards that that his government will “deepen not only economic but also political relations” with Tehran.

Meeting with Pashinyan in the Iranian capital in February, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Armenia to strengthen its relationship with his country “contrary to what the United States wants.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani likewise said after separate talks with the Armenian leader that the two neighbors will not allow any “third country” to undermine their cordial relationship.

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