By Shakeh Avoyan
Senior government officials from Armenia, Greece and Iran met in Yerevan on Wednesday for talks focusing on joint energy projects that are part of their trilateral economic cooperation. Top diplomats co-chairing the decision-making Executive Committee of the loose trilateral grouping paid particular attention to the construction of a pipeline to carry Iranian natural gas to Armenia.
The head of the Greek delegation, Georgios Savaidis, said Athens continues to support the realization of the $120 million project, repeatedly delayed due to a lack of funding and price disagreements. He said his country is "happy" that the Armenian and Iranian presidents reached an agreement on the issue at their summit in Tehran last December.
However, the "memorandum of understanding" signed by Presidents Robert Kocharian and Mohammad Khatami set no date for the start of work on the 140-kilometer pipeline.
The head of the Iranian delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Adeli, said its construction is likely to start by the end of this year. But his Armenian counterpart, Armen Martirosian, was more cautious, saying that the two sides have still to work out all details of the undertaking. He said the European Union, of which Greece is a member, will contribute to its implementation.
The EU backs the project as part of its efforts to accelerate the shutdown of the Metsamor nuclear plant which provides 40 percent of Armenia's electricity.
Savaidis told reporters that the Greek company Asprofos, which has conducted a feasibility study on the project with a $300,000 Greek government grant, takes an interest in participating in the pipeline's construction.
According to Martirosian, Greece is also seeking involvement in other Armenian-Iranian projects, including the construction of a big hydro-electric power plant on the border river Arax.
No decisions were announced after Wednesday's trilateral meeting, which largely proceeded behind closed doors.
The tripartite grouping was set up in late 1997 with the stated aim of promoting commercial links between the three nations which have interacted for centuries. But many observers believe that Armenia, Greece and Iran, which share strained relations with Turkey, also expect to draw geopolitical benefits from closer ties.