By Emil Danielyan
The head of Iran’s most powerful security agency began on Monday a three-day visit to Armenia with talks with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian which addressed a broad range of issues of mutual interest.
Information Minister Ali Younesi is also scheduled to meet with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other senior Armenian officials.
A brief statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Younesi and Oskanian stressed the importance of close ties developed by the two neighboring countries over the past 12 years and agreed on the need to bolster them with a “quick implementation” of bilateral commercial projects such as the planned construction of a major gas pipeline. It said the two men discussed ways of stepping up Armenian-Iranian “cooperation on issues of regional security.”
The statement added that they in particular “exchanged thoughts” about two key sources of instability in the South Caucasus: the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s tense relation with Turkey. No further details were reported.
There was no word about possible dates for Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's visit to Armenia that had originally been planned for last year. Preparations for the trip were discussed in Yerevan by the Armenian leaders and the visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi in April 2003. Officials said at the time that it will depend on when the two governments finalize a set of far-reaching economic agreements.
The two governments have for years reaffirmed their commitment to building the pipeline which Armenian officials say is of strategic importance to their country dependent on Russia for energy resources. However, they have so far failed to get the $120 million project off the drawing board due to a host of reasons, notably a lack of funding on the Armenian side.
Yerevan and Tehran also envisage the joint construction of a major hydro-electric plant on the river Arax that marks the Armenian-Iranian border. They have already conducted feasibility studies but have yet to secure funding for the project.
Younesi’s visit is another indication of the importance attached by Iran to relations with Armenia, the Islamic Republic’s sole Christian neighbor. The long list of officials he is due to meet in Yerevan, among them the chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court and Catholicos Garegin II, also attests to its significance.
The Information Ministry is one of the most powerful government agencies in Iran, dealing with domestic security and external intelligence. It is directly subordinated to the country’s conservative supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Opponents of the Islamist regime view the agency, also known as the Ministry of Intelligence, as the main instrument of government repression.