By Emil Danielyan
Armenia has reached a tentative agreement with Turkmenistan on imports of Turkmen natural gas through neighboring Iran, officials said on Tuesday.
The supplies will become possible after the construction of a gas pipeline linking Armenia and Iran, according to the acting Armenian ambassador to Turkmenistan. The Interfax news agency quoted the diplomat, Aram Grigorian, as saying after a meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov that Ashgabat plans to supply up to 2 billion cubic meters of gas to Armenia annually.
Grigorian said Niyazov and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, agreed in principle on the deliveries during talks on the sidelines of an informal summit of 12 ex-Soviet states held in Kazakhstan last month. Details of the deal will be worked out during the Turkmen leader’s official visit to Yerevan later this year, he added.
Armenia has imported the bulk of the gas, heavily used by its thermal power plans, from Russia since 1997. But part of the fuel delivered by the Russian exporter ITERA still comes from Turkmenistan. Yerevan has paid for Turkmen gas mainly with industrial equipment and consumer goods, and still has $12 million in outstanding debts.
The debt repayment was also discussed by Niyazov and the Armenian envoy. Grigorian said he suggested that Armenian companies participate in the construction of pipelines in Turkmenistan in payment of the debt.
Turkmenistan is already linked to Iran with a pipeline. It will be able to pump gas further on to Armenia after the planned Iran-Armenia pipeline is brought on stream. The Armenian and Iranian presidents reaffirmed their intention to press ahead with the $125 million project when they met in Tehran last December.
But it is still not known when work on the 141 kilometer pipeline will get underway. Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said in December that all “technical documents” needed for the start of the construction will be ready for signing before the end of this year.
Thermal power plans mainly powered by natural gas provide about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity. The country currently buys approximately 5 million cubic meters of gas a day from ITERA. Government officials say the diversification of fuel sources will boost its “energy independence.”