By Anna Saghabalian
A senior Iranian diplomat indicated on Tuesday that the Armenian government will need to secure Tehran’s consent if it indeed decides to grant Russia control over an under-construction pipeline running from Iran.
Russia’s state-run natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, was reported earlier this year to have secured ownership of the pipeline as part of a controversial settlement of its recent gas dispute with Yerevan. The information was initially confirmed by Gazprom but subsequently refuted by the Russian giant and senior Armenian officials.
Still, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who is closely involved in Russian-Armenian economic dealings, was more ambiguous on that score as he spoke with journalists in April. “Let’s leave that for the next time as there are interesting things here as well,” he said in response to a question about a possible Russian takeover of the Armenian-Iranian pipeline.
“There are no changes yet in the project,” Iran’s deputy ambassador to Armenia, Ali Akbar Jokar, insisted on Tuesday. “Changes may only happen with the consent of all parties [to the project.]”
Asked whether his government would object to the possible change of pipeline ownership, Jokar said, “Since there is nothing concrete, such a prediction can not be made at this point.”
Work on the first 40 kilometer section of the pipeline, financed by a $34 million Iranian loan, got underway late last year and is scheduled to be complete by next January. Armenian and Iranian officials say the construction is proceeding according to plan.
The pipeline is supposed to ease Armenia’s strong energy dependence on Russia, presently its sole supplier of gas. Critics of the Armenian government say its ownership by Gazprom would call into question this objective.
The implementation of this and other Armenian-Iranian energy projects would be seriously endangered by possible U.S. military action against Iran over its ruling regime’s controversial nuclear program. Hence, Armenian leaders’ repeated calls for a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
Jokar indicated that Tehran is satisfied with Yerevan’s position on the issue. “Our friend Armenia wants a peaceful solution to the issue,” he told reporters.