TEHRAN (RFE/RL) — Following a rare anti-Armenian protest in Tehran, Armenia has again tried to dispel neighboring Iran’s apparent concerns over its decision to open an embassy in Israel.
The Armenian ambassador to Iran, Artashes Tumanyan, assured a senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official on Wednesday that his country remains committed to its “friendly” relationship with the Islamic Republic despite its desire to improve Armenian-Israeli ties.
The Armenian government announced the decision last September, saying that it will not only “give new impetus” to its relations with the Jewish state but also help to secure the Armenian Apostolic Church’s continued strong presence in the Holy Land.
Israel hailed the move, with then Foreign Minister Israel Katz calling it a “significant step in the development of bilateral relations.” His Armenian counterpart, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, indicated that he would welcome the opening of an Israeli embassy in Yerevan.
The opening of the Armenian Embassy in Tel Aviv, initially slated for the beginning of this year, appears to have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Iranian leadership waited until March 15 to publicly signal its disapproval of Yerevan’s decision. A senior adviser to parliament speaker Ali Larijani said the move will have a “negative impact on stability and security in the region.” The official, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, urged the Armenian side to “think twice” before opening the mission in Tel Aviv.
Ambassador Tumanyan met with Alireza Haqiqian, the head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Eurasia department, on the same day. According to the Armenian Embassy in Tehran, he explained his government’s Israel-related motives to Haqiqian “in great detail.”
In a sign of Iran’s lingering discontent, two dozen Iranian university students rallied outside the Armenian Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday to condemn Yerevan’s plans and to urge it avoid any diplomatic presence in “the occupied Palestinian territories.” News reports from the Iranian capital said the protesters chanted “Death to Israel” and burned an Israeli flag.
Tumanyan discussed the demonstration with another senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official, Mohsen Faghani, at a meeting held the following day. According to an Armenian Embassy statement, the envoy assured Faghani that Armenia will continue to avoid involvement in “any anti-Iranian political project.”
“The ambassador emphasized that Armenian-Iranian friendly relations have been and remain one of Armenia’s foreign policy priorities,” read the statement.
The statement cited Faghani as saying that “some circles” in the Islamic Republic are worried about Israeli influence on Armenia. At the same time, it said, the Iranian official praised the current state of Armenian-Iranian relations and expressed confidence that they will not be undermined by any “discontent” with the Armenian diplomatic presence in Israel.
Mnatsakanyan echoed Tumanyan’s assurances when he spoke to journalists in Yerevan on Thursday. “Armenia has never implemented and does not intend to implement policies towards one partner at the expense of another,” said the foreign minister.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani most recently spoke by phone on April 28. An official Armenian readout of the phone call said they discussed ways of minimizing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on bilateral commercial ties.
Pashinyan stated on May 7 that Armenian-Iranian relations remain “very good” and are “developing dynamically.”
Two weeks later, Pashinyan sent a congratulatory message to Israel’s reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am hopeful that through joint efforts we will be able to replenish and overhaul the agenda of Armenian-Israeli cooperation and build strong ties of mutually beneficial partnership,” he wrote.
Armenian-Israeli relations have long been frosty, reflecting differing geopolitical priorities of the two states. Armenia has maintained a warm rapport with Iran, one of the landlocked South Caucasus country’s two conduits to the outside world, while Israel has pursued strategic cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Armenian leaders have long expressed concern over Israel’s large-scale arms deals with Azerbaijan which have reportedly totaled at least $2 billion since 2012. The Azerbaijani army used some of its Israeli-made weapons, notably sophisticated anti-tank rockets, during April 2016 hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.
And as recently as on April 21, Karabakh’s Defense army claimed to have shot down yet another Israeli-made Azerbaijani military drone.
Armenia and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992 but have had no embassies in each other’s capitals until now. Armenian ambassadors to Israel have been based in Paris, Cairo and even Yerevan.