08, 2017

President Serzh Sargsyan's interview to Iranian state news agency IRNA

President Serzh Sargsyan gave an interview to Iranian state news agency IRNA.

-How do you assess the political, economic, cultural and social relations between Armenia and the IRI and are there any programs to raise the level of those relations?

- The relations between Armenia and Iran based on centuries-old friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation could be regarded as exemplary. There are few nations that have been destined to walk side by side for millennia and today continue close partnership showing special respect to one another.

Armenia, and I am convinced also Iran, are interested in doing their best to further strengthen and develop the friendly relations based on traditionally rich ties, which was also reaffirmed during the visit of my Iranian collegue to Armenia. We take practical steps aimed at further strengthening and deepening the comprehensive partnership, expansion of the legal framework, as well as implementation of the agreements and joint economic projects.

I am glad to note that the political relations between Armenia and the IRI are on a high level. I think our countries have no political problems with each other or any limitation to develop these relations.

But according to our assessmenht, the level of Armenia-Iran economic relations does not correspond to the level of the political relations. We have not still used the huge potential existing for the development of trade and economic relations, be it expansion of trade turnover or implementation of investment, transportation, energy or infrastructural projects.

We closely cooperate in the sphere of culture as well. Book publishing, film production, restoration and preservation of historical and cultural monuments, museums and libraries are in the spotlight of the state bodies in both countries coordinating the sphere of culture. When we say that we have friendly relations with Iran, these are not just words. We highly appreciate the fact that Armenian cultural heritage is always greatly respected in Iran, our aincient monuments and churches are being reconstructed, some of which are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List the oldest of which dates back to the 7th century. The Armenian side has also reconstructed the Iranian Blue Mosque in Yerevan built in the 18th century and is planned to be included in the World Heritage List.

-What can you say about the project of constructing the Persian Gulf-Black Sea international transport corridor? What’s your assessment on that corridor in the context of bilateral and regional cooperation?

- I think the cooperation in the sphere of transport can have a significant share in our bilateral cooperation, where the Persian Gulf-Black Sea international transport corridor is just a part which is not limited by only bilateral format but has clear regional orientation. The project of constructing a transit transport route called “Persian Gulf-Black Sea road corridor” is a wonderful opportunity for developing the infrastructural capacities of Armenia, Iran, Georgia, Bulgaria and Greece fostering the economic development of the cooperating countries.

Our vision also encompasses activation of multimodal transportations from Iran to European countries through the territory of Armenia and the opposite direction and increasing the volume of trade turnover.

As refers to the Armenian section of the mentioned transport corridor, I have to note the the authorities of Armenia implement large-scale works to improve them and increase their transit capacities. The “North-South Road Corridor Investment Program” is one of those projects. Crossing the entire territory of Armenia from the south to the north it joins the roads leading to Poti and Batumi ports, as well as the southern section of the Georgian road leading to Russia, the CIS and European countries. After putting into operation this route will significantly cut the time spent on the roads in the territory of the Republic of Armenia, expanding the transit opportunities and the quality. It will give the Iranian goods an opportunity to enter the European market with minimal expenses, safe roads, and a short period of time, as well as will give a transit opportunity from other countries.

-Considering the abolishment of the visa regime, the rise of traffic and touristic flows from one country to the other, what are the plans of the Government of Armenia, including in the spheres of healthcare and tourism?

- I think the abolishment of the visa regime should be viewed from two perspectives. On the one hand it was a measure aimed at further deepening the centuries-old relations between the Armenian and Iranian peoples, on the other hand it will undoubtedly foster the expansion of partnership between the two states in different spheres, including economy, investments, tourism and so on. The results of the visa free regime are already visible. The number of the Iranian tourists in Armewnia has significantly increased this year compared to the previous years.

Tourism is on of economic priorities of Armenia. We develop new directions for Armenia, take measures to make Armenia more attractive for tourists, including Iranian tourists. Apart from other measures, we work in the direction to make the arrival to Armenia more comvinient for each tourist in all senses. For that goal we consistently improve the existing infrastructures and create new ones, and try to make the cultural and entertainment capacities of our country available for the visitors. I think that the cooperation between our countries in the sphere of tourism will be much more effective if it’s not limited by only bilateral format. The full realization of Armenia-Iran joint regional touristic potential and the proper presentation in the international market will be beneficiary for all the sides.

- Energy production and transit is one of the key directions of cooperation between the two states. Currently, gas/electricity exchange project is underway. How would you assess the future of this cooperation, considering the creation of the regional energy corridor, the opportunities of transiting gas and electricity?

- Gas and electricity exchange program is important not only from the perspective of economic benefits, but also from the perspective of energy security of both countries. Currently, the volume of gas and electricity exchange is limited by the capacity of the power transmission lines between the two states and clear measures are taken to increase those volumes by the construction of the 3rd high voltage power transmission line.

The implementation of various projects in this aspect will foster not only energy cooperation but also will give an opportunity to develop cooperation in gas imports and maybe also for transiting in the future.

It should also be mentioned that there is also regional cooperation enlargement project between Armenia, Iran, Georgia and Russia.

- Considering the capacities of the Iranian companies and their great foreign experience, as well as in Armenia in the implementation of infrastructural projects, what kind of privillages can be granted to them for participating in projects in Armenia?

- We attach great importance to the participation of Iranian companies in infrastructural projects in Armenia. And in this context ensuring the availability of information on projects being implemented in Armenia for our Iranian partners is of key importance. The establishment of Armenian-Iranian Joint Working Group on Investments and Trade was an important achievement in this direction, which will also work for making adequate information available for Armenian and Iranian businessmen.

As refers to privillages, the legal framework of state-private cooperation is under elaboration at the moment in the sidelines of which precise privillages will be defined for making state-private partnership beneficial for companies.

-Armenia is the gate for the IRI to the EEU and the free trade zone in Syunik can greatly foster IRI-EEU cooperation. What kind of privileges does the Government of Armenia plan to grant to the Iranian investors for starting business in Syunik’s free trade zone?

-Indeed, today Armenia can become a link between the businessmen of Iran and the member states of the EEU for both importing and exporting goods, and in this context the role of the freet trade zone being constructed in Syunik Province of Armenia on the border with Iran is of key importance. We have initiated discussions with the Iranian side on privilliged trade regime going on in the sidelines of the EEU. As a result of such cooperation, not only the Iranian businessmen will have an opportunity to export their production to the 180 million strong EEU market, but it’s also a new opportunity for us, the EEU member states, to enter the Iranian market. During these talks we plan to offer simplified procedures for the entry of Armenian production to the Iranian market.

- How do you assess Iran-Armenia cooperation in ensuring peace and security in the South Caucasus region?

- You know that it was the international community that presented Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement concept in the face of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chair states, Russia, France and the USA, holding the sole mediation mandate.

According to their proposals the basis of the Karabakh conflict settlement is the right of the people of Artsakh to free expression of will and the recognition of that right by all.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has always advocated exclusively peaceful and negotiated settlement of regional conflicts and disputes. In this context we highly appreciate the balanced and principled stance of Iran on Karabakh conflict settlement based on international right.

And the best contribution that any member of the international community can make to Karabakh conflict settlement is restraining Azerbaijan’s unconstructive and provocative policy and bringing it to field of constructive talks by making addressed statements and more practical steps.

- What kind of impact can have the development of tourism between the two states on cultural and scientific-technical spheres, as well as the deepening of friendship between the two peoples?

- Tourism development fosters mutual recognition of peoples, including the cultural heritage of each other, national peculiarities, knowledge of traditions and customs. Therefore, any touris arriving in Armenia brings part of the culture of the country he comes from, while he takes with him something Armenian when leaving. I am convinced that thank to such interactions the quality of services provided in a country improves, being adapted to the preferences of the tourists, as well as develop infrastructures.

At the same time, the better two peoples know and understand each other, the more trust level rises between them, creating favorable conditions for implementation of joint projects in various spheres, be it cultural, scientific-technical or economic.

As a result, this is a circular process, where the rise of tourists fosters the development of the spheres, and on the other hand the more the sphere improves, the more attractive the country becomes.

- On one hand, taking into account the actions of somen countries trying to make an ideology from Islamophobia, and on the other hand the friendly relations between the Armenian and Muslim communities of our countries, what is stance towards the preachers of Islamophobia?

- Islamophobia, as well as other demonstrations of xenophobia, is unacceptable.

Any demonstration of xenophobia only deepens the gap between peoples of different religions, cultures and worldview, which can have tragic and irreversible outcomes. The Armenian people, unfortunately, become the victim of unprecedented demonstration of xenophobia in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire perpetuated the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. It’s a pity, but xenophobic policy against our people continues up till now, which is one of the obstacles for the peaceful settlement of Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

Armenia-Iran relations are an excellent example of what kind of friendly relations Christian and Muslim states can have, what kind of firm friendly and cultural ties the two peoples can have. Respect and tolerance to one another are one of guarantees of global peace.

In this context I cannot bypass the Armenian community in Iran. The Armenians in Iran have lived and create side by side with Muslims and have never been a victim of any discrimination. They have equally shared the moments of happiness and difficulties with their Muslim compatriots, making their contribution to the development, prosperity and defense of fraternal Iran.

- What’s the impact of Iran-Russia-Armenia regional cooperation on regional and international peace and stability?

- Iran, Armenia and Russia are friendly states from the perspective of both bilateral and trilateral cooperation. The peace-building policy led by our countries is itself an important guarantee of regional peace and stability. At the same time I believe our countries have more potential for trilateral cooperation.

Under the light of the developments in our region it’s important that Armenia and Iran, as well as Armenia’s strategic partner Russia further unite their efforts for ensuring regional peace and security, becoming a firm stronghold in the fight against extremism.

- How would you describe the cooperation between the two states in fighting drug smuggling and what’s its impact on solving this issue?

- Armenia is committed to its international obligations assumed for fight against drug trafficking and makes practical steps for their implementation. For achieving this goal Armenia cooperates with both international institutions and separate states and Iran is among those states.

Of course, as refers to our neighboring Iran, we have mutual interest in fighting against drug trafficking, and I think the joint measures further enhance Armenian-Iranian friendly relations.

I have to add that the implementation of the project of modernizing Meghri’s border checkpoint will have an important role in enhancing Armenian-Iranian partnership in the fight against drug trafficking.

I am deeply convinced that the partnership between Armenia and Iran in the legal sphere has also huge potential and we have to develop this potential. The steps directed at developing partnership are continues and are constantly on our agenda.

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