Iran's Love Mission to Armenia
Amid the growing threat of a Western shakedown for its alleged nuclear secrets, Iran is continuing with its regional charm campaign in the South Caucasus. During Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s November 8 visit to Yerevan, Tehran again pushed for visa-free travel with Armenia and for boosting bilateral trade.
Visa-free relations have become a major regional policy theme for Iran, which already dropped visa requirements for Armenia’s neighbors, Azerbaijan and Georgia. But only Georgia -- curiously, the most fervently Western-centric of the three -- has reciprocated the move.
Azerbaijan, wary of Iranian meddling in its domestic affairs, either secular or spiritual, has been dragging its feet.
It was not immediately clear if Armenia is ready to commit to visa-free relations with Iran. Previously, Armenia politely smiled off Iran's advances, but Yerevan has more than one reason to make nice with its powerful neighbor.
For landlocked Armenia, friendship works vertically, and animosity horizontally. It is sandwiched between enemies to the west and east (Turkey and Azerbaijan), while its only close regional friends sit to the north and south (Russia and Iran).
And what a friend Tehran hopes to be. It promised to invest in two hydropower stations in Armenia and help build a natural gas pipeline to export Iranian gas. Salehi said in Yerevan that he would like to see bilateral trade turnover grow beyond the current $300 million and the number of Iranian tourists to Armenia increase from 100,000 to a million per year.
Increased trade and simplified travel policies seem to be helping Tehran feel more solid ground under its feet in the neighborhood, which is, after all, a somewhat familiar stomping ground from Persian times.
Cognizant of Iran's growing economic opportunities, the South Caucasus countries have never backed Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and, so far, have opted to stay out of the battle of the big powers.
To be continued . . .