By Atom Markarian
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian has returned from an official visit to neighboring Iran without announcing a breakthrough on the long-delayed construction of a pipeline to ship Iranian natural gas to Armenia.
The two sides, on the other hand, seem to be inching closer to implementation of another joint energy project which they also view as strategically important.
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Energy Ministry, Lusine Harutiunian, told RFE/RL on Monday that Movsisian and senior Iranian officials agreed last week to “ascertain the schemes with which they will be working.” She refused to give further details of the talks in Tehran.
The comments suggest that the two governments have yet to agree on possible dates for starting work on the $120 million project. Progress on the issue has been hampered by differences over the price of Iranian gas. Harutiunian noted, though, that they have already decided that the Armenian side would pay for the fuel with electricity supplies to Iran.
Talks on the pipeline’s construction have been going on for nearly a decade with no end in sight. Some observers believe that it is even more problematic now that Russia is Armenia’s sole gas supplier and controls much of the country’s energy sector. Moscow, they say, is not interested in any Iranian competition despite Yerevan’s attempts to diversify its energy resources.
But Armenian and Iranian officials insist that Russian interests in the region are not at odds with their ambitious plans. The Iranian ambassador to Armenia, Mohammad Farhad Koleini, said last week that his country does not regard Russia as a competitor in the Armenian market. “Energy talks are delicate and difficult in any part of the world,” he argued. He said that the Armenian-Iranian energy projects will not necessarily have a bilateral character, hinting that the Russians may always join in.
“I think that Armenia should clarify its terms for the purchase of gas,” he added, highlight ting the persisting Armenian-Iranian differences.
Energy matters were high on the agenda of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi’s visit to Yerevan last April. Kharrazi and his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, said their countries are determined to underpin their warm political relations with closer economic cooperation.
Movsisian’s visit to Tehran, during which he also met with President Mohammad Khatami, appears to have marked greater progress towards the planned construction of a large hydroelectric plant on the Arax river that serves as the Armenian-Iranian border. Armenian sources say, the two sides have completed feasibility studies on the $90 million project and may kick-start it next year. They say the plant will consist of two power generating units to be built on each side of the river.