By Armen Zakarian
Armenia's ambassador to Iran, Gegham Gharibjanian, told RFE/RL on 20 July that construction of a 140-kilometer pipeline that will deliver Iranian natural gas to Armenia has already started on Iranian territory. The Iranian section of the pipeline, which is 100-kilometers in length, will be ready by next spring.
Gharibjanian said that the Armenian side has received several offers from investors to provide the money for construction of the 40-kilometer Armenian section of the pipeline, the cost of which is estimated at $120 million.
"The offers and the sums amount to more than the estimated cost of the pipeline," Gharibjanian said, adding that an Iranian company has been already chosen for the construction of the Armenian section of the pipeline. Gharibjanian declined to name the company, but he said that its head was in Yerevan a few days ago.
Gharibjanian expressed the hope that gas supplies will begin even earlier than the scheduled date, at the beginning of 2007. The long-awaited bilateral agreement on the construction of a 140-kilometer pipeline was signed on May 13 in Yerevan.
Gharibjanian confirmed that Iran's President Mohammad Khatami will visit Armenia in September. The visit, which has long been planned, will be the first official visit to Armenia by an Iranian head of state since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Gharibjanian also said that negotiations on construction of a mountain tunnel in Armenia's southeastern Syunik region bordering Iran are close to completion. Gharibjanian believes that an agreement on the construction of the Kajaran tunnel will be signed during President Khatami's visit.