Iranian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Armenia Mehdi Sobhani at his press conference in Yerevan on 6 February 2024 expressed an idea about the allegedly faster transit of Iranian goods through the Republic of Armenia compared to transit through Azerbaijan. Up to two days.
Mehdi Sobhani stated that Tehran supports the Armenian government's "Crossroads of Peace" initiative and also said that Iran's preferred route is through Armenia rather than Azerbaijan. The Armenian route, he claimed, was allegedly two days shorter than the Azerbaijani route. But it is completely unclear how Iranian goods could "fly" from the Iranian border to the Georgian border through the territory of the Republic of Armenia in order to overtake the goods going from Iran to the Black Sea via Azerbaijan and Georgia.
From the Iranian border, goods can already be transported by rail through Azerbaijan from the border town of Astara to the Black Sea ports of Georgia. And with normal logistical organisation, the whole journey can take less than two days.
The issue of the railway crossing at the Iran-Azerbaijan border and its connection to the Iranian railway system will persist for the time being. It is unlikely that Iran will complete the Resht-Astara railway section. However, even when using road transport, lorries travelling from the Iranian border to the Georgian border through Azerbaijan benefit from more favourable highways than those passing through Armenia. Considering the section of the motorway from the Iranian border to Yerevan through Zangezur, which includes many difficult mountainous sections with limited capacity, trucks currently have to move at a slow pace.
It is important to note the disruptive actions of Iranian proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen, on international communications, which have caused issues in international navigation on the Red Sea. After the Hussites began attacking ships in the Red Sea (which were unlikely to be successful without Iran's help), there was an interest in the transit of cargo from India through Iran. However, Iran is attempting to force this transit through an unprepared route via Armenia, which has inadequate infrastructure for large volumes of traffic.
Mehdi Sobhani stated that Iran considers the transport route through Armenia as the best way to the Black Sea, while for the Armenian side, the road through Iran to the Persian Gulf is preferable.
To enhance the appeal of the Armenian route, it is suggested that tariffs be lowered and new roads be constructed. Infrastructure development is considered the primary task in implementing this transport project. The road to the northern border with Georgia has already been established in Armenia, but there is still much work to be done towards the south, leading to Iran.
Mehdi Sobhani suggests that Iran is the most viable route for Armenia to the south, including the Chabahar port on the Indian Ocean coast. The diplomat emphasises the importance of facilitating ties between the two countries by ensuring cargo transportation and developing infrastructure. Works in this direction have already been carried out in the south of Armenia. The speaker referred to the signing of an agreement for the construction of the southernmost section of the North-South motorway in Armenia, from Agarak, which borders Iran, to the city of Kajaran, spanning 32 kilometres. Mehdi Sobhani also stated that practical steps for the project's implementation will be taken by the end of February.
The Iranian Ambassador to Armenia highlights the potential for Armenian and international transit from India to Europe through Iran-Armenia-Georgia and the Black Sea, rather than the typical route through the Red Sea with pro-Iranian Hussites, or Iran-Azerbaijan-Georgia and the Black Sea.
Iran has agreed to invest in Armenian roads urgently. However, the Resht-Astara railway, which provides Iran with direct railway access to the Black Sea, is not being accelerated despite its significant logistical advantages. It seems that Iran is hesitant to use Azerbaijan as a transit route for cargo.
The Iranian ambassador's statement about the longer duration of the route through Azerbaijan compared to Armenia may be interpreted as a warning. It is important to remain objective and avoid making assumptions about Iran's intentions. There may be transit issues through Azerbaijan, similar to the communication problems experienced in the Red Sea due to Iranian proxies of the Hussites. Additionally, Iran's other proxies, such as Hay revanchists, may also contribute to this issue. It is important to remain objective and avoid making subjective evaluations.
Currently, the balance of power prevents any interference with international transport passing through Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Hayan army, which was defeated in the 44-day war, is relatively weak, but it is rapidly arming itself. Armenia has received assistance from not only France but also Iran, which has facilitated the transit of Indian weapons for Armenia through its territory. Mehdi Sobhani has made it clear that this transit will continue. Sobhani stated that Iran supports the strengthening of Armenia. He believes that regional peace will be achieved through a balance of power. Iran is willing to provide assistance to Armenia to promote regional peace and stability.
It is worth considering the option of establishing a direct railway connection between Iran and the Black Sea through Azerbaijan and Georgia, which would benefit all parties involved, including Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the transit countries. This proposal suggests reactivating the direct railway line that previously connected the Iranian railway in the Nakhchivan region with the Black Sea via Zangezur before the collapse of the USSR. To restore this railway connection, opening the Zangezur corridor is necessary.
The Iranian ambassador expressed opposition to the opening of the corridor.
Iran has a clear position on the issue at hand: roads should be under the sovereignty of the country through which they pass. Iran is against changing borders and geopolitical changes in the region. The opening of the Zangezur corridor would be considered a change of borders by Iran. It is unclear why Iran did not consider Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani Karabakh as a border change.
Mehdi Sobhani confirmed in his press conference that Iran continues to support the revanchists in Yerevan and opposes the opening of the main East-West communications in the South Caucasus region, including the Zangezur corridor. Iran is also actively trying to build its South-North corridor, which has become unexpectedly relevant due to the actions of its proxies in the Red Sea.