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By Karine Kalantarian

Armenia and Iran announced on Tuesday the official start of bilateral military cooperation, reiterating that it is not directed against third countries and will only contribute to regional security. A memorandum of understanding was signed by their defense ministers in Yerevan.

“The signed document is the beginning of our cooperation in the military sphere,” Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian told a joint news conference. “We are neighbors and friends, we must cooperate.”

“The basis for our cooperation has been created,” said his visiting Iranian counterpart, Admiral Ali Shamkhani.

The text of the agreement was not publicized, and it remained unclear how the Armenian-Iranian defense ties will manifest themselves. Sarkisian spoke only of a possible exchange of military cadets, while Shamkhani mentioned sales of various products manufactured by Iran’s defense industry. But he indicated that supplies of Iranian-made weapons are not yet on the agenda.

Shamkhani met with President Robert Kocharian earlier in the day. The presidential press office said the two men “exchanged thoughts about the military-political situation in the region and security issues.” They were quoted as agreeing that the “friendly relations” between Yerevan and Tehran strengthen stability in the region.

Shamkhani, speaking at the news conference, repeated Iran’s opposition to U.S. military presence in Georgia. He claimed that the three south Caucasian states stand to gain little from relying on the United States. In a gesture that underscored the recent escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran, Shamkhani refused to answer a question from this correspondent, citing the fact that RFE/RL is financed by the U.S. government.

Iran’s stance is unlikely to deter Armenia’s from seeking military ties with the U.S. as part of its “complementary” foreign policy. Sarkisian is due to pay an official visit to Washington on March 17-21 to work out details of the first-ever American military assistance to his country approved late last year.
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