By Karine Kalantarian and Emil Danielyan
The United States has no problem with Armenia’s growing ties with Iran in the area of energy because they do not interfere with its policy towards the Islamic Republic, U.S. Ambassador John Evans said on Friday.
Evans indicated that Washington understands Armenia’s desire to reduce its excessive dependence on Russia for energy resources which was highlighted by a recent disruption of Russian gas supplies to the region. He also argued that the ongoing Armenian-Iranian energy projects do not breach a U.S. law that calls for serious sanctions against any company investing in the Iranian energy sector.
“The United States is very sympathetic to Armenia’s energy situation and to Armenia’s efforts to diversify sources of energy,” he told a news conference in Yerevan. “Up to now, so far as we can tell, the American legislation has not been triggered by anything that Armenia has done.”
“The key point is investment into the energy sector of Iran, and so far there has not been enough of that to cause a problem,” added Evans.
The multimillion-dollar projects envisage only Iranian investments in the Armenian energy sector that are due to total at least $200 million in the coming years. Yerevan has already borrowed $34 million from Tehran to finance the ongoing work on a gas pipeline from Iran. The Iranians have also pledged to invest $150 in completing the protracted construction of a big thermal power plant in the Armenian town of Hrazdan. Armenia is to repay both loans with supplies of electricity to its big Muslim neighbor.
These and other issues of mutual interest were discussed at the latest meeting of the Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation which ended its work in Tehran on Wednesday. The Iranian co-chairman of the commission, Finance and Economy Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari called for a further development of bilateral ties. The official IRNA news agency quoted him as expressing hope that the first Armenian section of the pipeline will be complete by January 2007.
The Armenian delegation at the meeting was headed by Artashes Tumanian, President Robert Kocharian’s chief of staff. Tumanian met with Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his previous visit to Tehran in mid-November. Ahmadinejad reportedly told Tumanian that his government wants to step up cooperation with Armenia “in all areas.”
Evans revealed that while not objecting to the current level of Armenian-Iranian cooperation, Washington is trying to hold the Armenian leaders in check. “I have more than once consulted with members of the [Armenian] government to be sure that they are watching this question so as not to bring the American legislation [against Iran] into effect,” the U.S. envoy said.
Successive U.S. administrations have accused Iran, one of America’s few remaining arch-foes in the world, of abusing human rights, sponsoring terrorism and seeking to illegally develop nuclear weapons. President George W. Bush again denounced its “repressive regime” in his State of the Union address to Congress on Monday. The Bush administration has been at the forefront of Western efforts to refer Iran’s controversial nuclear program to the UN Security Council.
Armenia seems to be firmly on the fence in the dispute, with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian calling last week for a “diplomatic” solution that would spare Iran international sanctions. Analysts believe that an overt confrontation between Western powers and the Islamic regime could seriously complicate Yerevan’s relations with Tehran.
A major recipient of U.S. economic assistance, Armenia has looked in recent years to complement its military alliance with Russia with closer security ties with NATO and the U.S. in particular. Evans on Friday again praised the country for its largely symbolic participation in the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq.
“I would like to thank Armenia for its honorable contribution to multinational efforts to secure peace and stability in Iraq and the greater Middle East,” he said. “With President Bush's renewed commitment to international engagement, I look forward to the United States and Armenia continuing to work together towards achieving our common goals in the coming year.”