By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian met with Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York on Thursday to discuss the current state of Armenian-Iranian relations and ways of advancing them.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations which began its work on Wednesday. It was Ahmadinejad’s first face-to-face encounter with a senior Armenian official since his surprise victory in Iran’s recent presidential election.
Ahmadinejad was quoted by the Armenian government’s press service as telling Markarian that maintaining “friendly relations” with Armenia remains a top priority for his country. “He stressed the importance of a consistent implementation of the existing economic projects between the two countries and pledged to contribute to that,” read a government statement.
Markarian, according to his office, also attached great importance to the ongoing construction of an Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline and other bilateral commercial projects. And he praised Tehran’s “balanced policy” on the South Caucasus, saying that its continuation is “extremely important” for regional stability.
Ahmadinejad is known for his ultra-conservative views and his rise to power prompted concern in the West. However, analysts say the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is likely to retain final say on the key policy issues. The development of Armenian-Iranian ties over the past 15 years is thought to have occurred with Khamenei’s blessing.
Armenian-Iranian trade has dwindled in recent years but may pick up in the near future as a result of the joint energy projects. Armenia has borrowed tens of millions of dollars in Iranian loans to finance the construction of the gas pipeline and high-voltage transmission lines that will boost Armenian electricity exports to Iran.
Meeting with a visiting Iranian regional governor in July, President Robert Kocharian said he also looks forward to the unfolding construction of a second Armenian highway leading to the Iranian border. He said the volume of bilateral cargo turnover will grow “considerably” as a result.
Markarian represents Armenia at the UN summit in place of Kocharian. There has been no official explanation of why Kocharian, who usually attends such high-level forums, did not join about 160 world leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush, who converged on New York.
The Armenian premier was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Friday. While in New York, Markarian met with the heads of various UN agencies, including Kemal Dervis, the UN Development Program administrator and Turkey’s former economy minister. Dervis was reported to have welcomed increased cooperation between the UNDP and the Armenian government.