By Erik Davtyan (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On July 20, the President of the European Council (EC) Donald Tusk launched his regional trip to the South Caucasus, starting with high level meetings in Yerevan, Armenia. Tusk’s first visit to Yerevan took place in 2010 when he was the Prime Minister of Poland. During the one-day visit, Tusk met with Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan. Tusk and Sargsyan discussed EU-Armenia relations and their current cooperation, as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. They also discussed regional issues, especially the Iranian nuclear deal which was reached on July 14. Regarding the Greek financial crisis and its relevance to the European Union, Sargsyan expressed hope that the problems will be resolved quickly and confirmed that “Armenia favors both stability in the EU, a key partner of our country, and the normal development of Armenia’s centuries-old friend, Greece.” In turn, Tusk appreciated the initiation of the process of constitutional reform in Armenia and asked the President to present the goal of the amendments.
During the joint press conference, Sargsyan stressed that “we [Armenia] are keen on broadening relations with the European Union, one of our key partners, during Mr. Tusk’s tenure, which, I am sure will contribute to the long-lasting constructive dialogue existing between us.” The EC President welcomed the progress on mobility partnership and stated that the EU fully respects Armenia’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement, including the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement). Moreover, Tusk reaffirmed that the EU is ready to continue the bilateral cooperation in a myriad of spheres of mutual interest. At the same time, the EC President touched upon the possibility of a visa-free regime with Armenia as a “final goal”. Answering questions raised by journalists, Tusk declared that the main goal of his visit was to reiterate that “the EU wants to strengthen cooperation with Armenia in all areas of mutual interest,” despite Armenia’s membership to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
After the successful conclusion of the first phase of negotiations, the parties stated their expectation that in the near future a new comprehensive agreement will regulate EU-Armenia relations. Tusk did not exclude the possibility of a new free trade agreement, which may open new opportunities for the bilateral economic relations. In May 2015, the economic aspect of the future format of EU-Armenia relations was also highlighted by Morten Enberg, Swedish chargé d’affaires in Armenia. Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the European official confirmed the EU’s support for the OSCE Minsk Group.
Tusk also met with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, as well as representatives of opposition parties. The Armenian Prime Minister mentioned that “the EU has been and remains a major partner of Armenia due to the fact that our cooperation is first and foremost underpinned by shared values. Armenia is prepared to continue cooperating with the EU in a bid to promote reforms, efficient governance, democracy, human rights, as well as to boost economic exchanges and cooperate in other fields of mutual interest.” During the meeting Tusk confirmed that the EU “will continue to provide reform-targeted financial assistance to Armenia.” During Tusk’s meeting with Armenia’s political opposition, the parties generally discussed the project of constitutional reforms. Representatives of five political parties expressed different approaches toward the project. For example, Mher Shahgeldyan, the secretary of the “Rule of Law” Faction of Armenia’s National Assembly, criticized the project and said that it would strongly increase the functions of the Prime Minister and lead to a monopolization of power. Shahgeldyan also informed Tusk that the opposition parties of the National Assembly have prepared a program on electoral reforms and submitted it to the Venice Commission.
Tusk’s regional visit to the South Caucasus relations follows the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga on May 21-22. Summarizing all issues of the Yerevan agenda, Donald Tusk left for Tbilisi and Baku and held respective meetings with high officials of Georgia (July 21) and Azerbaijan (July 22).
By Erik Davtyan (06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In June 2015, Armenia and Iran held numerous talks on political and economic cooperation, energy security, and the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. On June 10, Armenia’s ambassador to Iran, Artashes Tumanyan, met with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament). Boroujerdi welcomed the fact that Armenia and Iran pursue a high-level political dialogue and successfully cooperate at the level of parliaments, emphasizing the unique role of the Armenian Diaspora in Iran’s development. In turn, Ambassador Tumanyan stressed the importance of deepening political dialogue and economic exchange and expressed his gratitude to Iranian authorities for the warm attitude towards Iranian Armenians and the preservation of Armenian cultural heritage in Iran. Touching upon the current turmoil in the Middle East and security issues, the Armenian ambassador stated that all regional issues should be solved only by political means and that Armenia runs a constructive and balanced policy in this context.
The official political dialogue between the two neighboring states continued in the following days in Yerevan. On June 11, the President of Armenia’s National Assembly Galust Sahakyan received the head of the Friendship Group Armenia-Iran Ali Qaidi and other members of the group. The parties discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, as well as issues related to Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), parliamentary cooperation and especially the activity of the Friendship Group. On June 12, Iranian members of the Friendship Group were received by Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian. Nalbandian stressed the importance of political dialogue at both the executive and legislative levels and emphasized that several Armenians are engaged in Iranian parliamentary affairs as deputies in the Islamic Consultative Assembly.
Simultaneously, on June 11-12 Armenian officials held separate consultations with another Iranian delegation. The consultations were headed by the Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs Shavarsh Kocharyan and Ibrahim Rahimpour. According to the press release of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the activation of political dialogue and enhancing cooperation in energy, trade-economic, and humanitarian fields bilaterally as well as in the framework of international organizations were on the agenda of the consultations. The counterparts also discussed the realization of joint economic projects in detail. Along with issues of common concern, the interlocutors reciprocally presented the current developments on top priority issues in Armenia’s and Iran’s foreign policies. Kocharyan presented the efforts of Armenia and the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. In turn, Rahimpour briefed on the recent developments in the negotiation process on Iran’s nuclear program. On June 14, Ambassador Tumanyan met with Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zangeneh and discussed issues relating to bilateral economic and energy cooperation.
Despite the active and regular interaction between Armenian and Iranian authorities, it is obvious that the vague perspective of constructing a new railway is still the most important problem on the two states’ official mutual agenda. By connecting its railway network to Iran’s, Armenia seeks to circumvent the dual embargo by Turkey and Azerbaijan (imposed more than 20 years ago) and receive the status of a transit state, thereby raising its international importance. For Iran, the new railway will open new opportunities for linking the Persian Gulf through Iran to the Black Sea basin. According to News.am, Tumanyan declared that Iranian authorities will build 60 kilometers of the railway, reaching the Armenian-Iranian state border. Regarding the existing difficulties for this infrastructural program, the Armenian ambassador explained that the construction of an Iran-Armenia railway needs a colossal investment, hence “the railway will be constructed as soon as financial needs are satisfied.”
Tumanyan also said that “Armenia aims at linking Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union” and added that “the members of the EEU are also interested in a broader cooperation with Iran”. In August 2014, the Armenian government approved the railway project at a cost of approximately US$ 3.5billion. Armenia has to build a nearly 300 kilometer-long section of the railway, the construction of which is estimated to be completed in 2022.
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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.