By Astghik Bedevian
The presidents of Armenia and Iran will inaugurate on Monday the first Armenian section of a natural gas pipeline connecting their countries, officials in Yerevan said on Friday.
President Robert Kocharian’s press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, told RFE/RL that the opening ceremony will take place near the Armenian border town of Meghri. He said top Iranian officials led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend it along with their Armenian counterparts.
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian was due to fly to Tehran later on Friday. A spokeswoman for the Armenian Energy Ministry said he will prepare for the meeting of the two presidents and discuss “other details of the pipeline’s opening” with officials there. Movsisian already visited the Iranian capital for that purpose last month.
The 40-kilometer stretch of the pipeline running through Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region was initially due to come on stream by the end of December. Armenian officials have blamed the delay on bad weather and unspecified “technical problems.” However, the Iranian side insisted in January that the facility is essentially complete and ready to start pumping Iranian gas.
Media speculation has linked the delay with the Armenian government’s apparent plans to incorporate the pipeline into the ARG national gas distribution network, 58 percent of which is owned by Russia’s state-run Gazprom monopoly. Analysts wonder whether the pipeline would reduce Armenia’s energy dependence on Russia in these circumstances. Also, it is not clear if Armenia can make use of Iranian gas before building the second, much longer section of the facility.
Soghomonian declined to comment on reports that Kocharian and Ahmadinejad will sign agreements on new bilateral energy projects in Meghri. “Everything will become clear on the spot,” he said.
The two leaders already signed a number of economic agreements during Kocharian’s visit to Iran last July. One of them envisages construction of a third transmission line that will connect the power grids of the two neighboring states.