Acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says he made clear to U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton last week that Armenia will pursue its national interests and maintain "special relations" with its neighbor Iran.
Addressing the Armenian parliament on November 1, Pashinian said he told Bolton when he visited Yerevan last week that Armenia is a landlocked nation that does not have diplomatic relations with either neighboring Turkey or Azerbaijan, so it must retain "special relations" with its other two neighbors -- Iran and Georgia -- which he said are Armenia's only "gateways" to the outside world.
“I reaffirm the position that we should have special relations with Iran and Georgia that would be as far outside geopolitical influences as possible. This position was very clearly formulated also during my meeting with Mr. Bolton, and I think that the position of Armenia was clear, comprehensible, and even acceptable to representatives of the U.S. delegation,” the Armenian leader said.
Bolton visited the Caucasus nations of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan last week in part to push for compliance with the sanctions that the United States is reimposing on Iran's oil and financial sectors on November 5 after withdrawing from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in April.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on October 25, Bolton said he told Pashinian that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will enforce sanctions against Iran “very vigorously.” For that reason, he said, the Armenian-Iranian border is “going to be a significant issue.”
“Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process,” Bolton added.
Pashinian told the parliament that his response to Bolton was: “We respect any country’s statement and respect the national interests of any country, but the Republic of Armenia has its own national and state interests, which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries, any other country.
“Let no one doubt that we are fully building our activities on the basis of Armenia’s national interest – be it in our relations with the United States, Iran, Russia, all countries.”
Pashinian made his remarks in response to a lawmaker's question about what effect the U.S. sanctions on Iran would have on Armenia.
Days after his talks with Pashinian and other foreign leaders, Bolton conceded that the White House is unlikely to achieve its stated goal of reducing Iran's oil exports to "zero" under the sanctions.
"We understand, obviously, [that] a number of countries -- some immediately surrounding Iran, some of which I just visited last week, others that have been purchasing oil [from Iran] -- may not be able to go all the way to zero immediately. So, we want to achieve maximum pressure [on Iran], but we don't want to harm friends and allies either, and we are working our way through that," Bolton told the Alexander Hamilton Society in Washington on October 31.
A hard-liner who has pushed for the toughest possible sanctions on Iran, Bolton's remarks suggested for the first time that the White House may be preparing to grant waivers from the sanctions to some countries like India, Turkey, and South Korea that have requested them.
Still, Bolton insisted that the sanctions already are having a powerful effect on Iran's economy, in particular helping to cause a collapse in Iran's currency, the rial, this year.
"Already, you see reduction in purchases in countries like China that you would not have expected -- countries that are still in the nuclear deal [with Iran]. We have also seen Chinese financial institutions withdrawing from engaging in transactions with Iran. European businesses are fleeing the Iranian market. Most of the big ones are already out," he said.