By Hrach Melkumian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s official visit to Iran has been postponed indefinitely, Armenian officials announced on Tuesday, citing the absence of two senior Iranian officials from Tehran.
The Armenian ambassador to Iran, Gegham Gharibjanian, told RFE/RL that President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi are currently attending a summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Malaysia and are therefore unable to receive Sarkisian. Both Gharibjanian and an Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman denied any political motives for the delay.
Sarkisian was scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Tuesday. Officials said the trip will take place at a later, unspecified date.
The two neighboring states have maintained close political and economic relations since the Soviet collapse. They agreed to look into the possibility of establishing military cooperation during Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani’s visit to Armenia in March 2002. "We now want to develop relations in the area of defense and security as well," Shamkhani said at the time.
Gharibjanian, however, played down the military component of bilateral ties. “Armenian-Iranian relations mainly concern the economic sphere,” he said. “But of course, we should develop them in all directions.”
Gharibjanian said the leadership of the Islamic Republic remains committed to its warm relationship with its sole Christian neighbor. “Both Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei and President Khatami have a clearly positive attitude to Armenia,” he said, adding that Khatami will pay a landmark visit to Yerevan “in the very near future.”
The visit was due to occur earlier this year, but was put off following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. No fresh date for it has been fixed yet.
Khatami met last week with Armenia’s visiting Energy Minister Armen Movsisian to discuss large-scale energy projects planned by the two governments. Armenian sources reported afterwards progress on the planned construction of a hydro-electric power plant on the Arax river that marks the Armenian-Iranian border.
The volume of Armenian-Iranian trade stood at $110 million last year. In Gharibjanian’s words, it will reach at least $130 million this year.