By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert and Armen Zakarian
Iran’s desire to become involved in international efforts to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was on Saturday welcomed by the authorities in Stepanakert. “Iran should participate in those activities as an observer or otherwise,” the foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Naira Melkumian, told RFE/RL.
Hassan Rowhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme Security Council who visited Armenia and Azerbaijan this week, said Tehran would like to play an “active and constructive” role in the Karabakh peace process. Armenian leaders praised Iranian policy on the region as “balanced” and “impartial” during the talks.
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, who met with Rowhani on Friday, was also understood to support Iran’s involvement in the peace process. The Turan news agency quoted him as saying that Iran, as a country that has "very close relations with Armenia", could play "a significant role" in the conflict resolution. Baku, however, is more wary of stronger Iranian presence in the region, having repeatedly criticized Tehran for maintaining close political and commercial links with Armenia.
Melkumian said the Karabakh leadership appreciates the fact that “Iran regards itself as an impartial mediator in this region.”
The French, Russian and US negotiators leading the OSCE’s Minsk Group on Karabakh said after the peace talks in Florida in April that they will regularly brief the Iranian leadership of their peace initiative. But they have so far ruled out any Iranian mediation of further negotiations.
Meanwhile, a senior Armenian diplomat said on Saturday that Rowhani’s visit to Yerevan ushered Armenian-Iranian relations in a “new, practical phase.” Gegham Gharibjanian, the Armenian ambassador in Tehran, told RFE/RL that the two neighboring states plus Russia are stepping up their efforts to form a “North-South axis” that will pursue geopolitical and economic goals. He claimed further progress in the implementation of Armenian-Iranian commercial projects such as the construction of a gas pipeline and a major tunnel in southeastern Armenia which would significantly facilitate bilateral trade.
Gharibjanian said final details of the multimillion-dollar projects will be worked out during President Robert Kocharian’s official visit to Iran later this year.