By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia and Iran pledged to give a new boost to the development of bilateral commercial ties following a regular meeting in Yerevan on Friday of their intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, the two co-chairmen of the commission, signed a memorandum on the start of feasibility studies on the ambitious ideas of building an Armenian-Iranian railway and oil refinery.
Movsisian said work on a third high-voltage line linking the power grids of the two neighboring states will get underway “in one or two months.” He said Yerevan and Tehran are also pressing ahead with the construction of a major hydro-electric plant on the river Arax that marks the Armenian-Iranian border.
“I am convinced that we still start concrete work on the Arax plant next year,” he told a news conference.
“Iran’s economic cooperation with Armenia is very broad-based,” Mottaki said, for his part. He welcomed a rise in bilateral trade, saying that its volume could more than double to $500 million this year.
It was also announced that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will pay an official visit to Armenia before the end of this year. Ahmadinejad and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian already met on the Armenian-Iranian border last March during the official inauguration of the first section of a gas pipeline that will deliver Iranian natural gas to Armenia.
The pipeline’s second, much longer section is slated for completion by the end of next year.
Armenia’s growing ties with Iran prompted concern from the United States last month, with a senior American diplomat warning that they might run counter to international sanctions imposed on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program. “We have expressed our concerns to the government of Armenia on all levels,” said the then U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey.
Mottaki brushed aside the warning. “Armenian-Iranian relations are not directed against any third country,” he said. “They stem from the interests of the two countries. No third country must allow itself to meddle in the friendly Armenian-Iranian relations.”
Asked to comment on the Iranian nuclear program, Movsisian said: “We respect the Iranian people’s right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,”
Meeting with Mottaki earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was reported to have asked his Iranian counterpart to brief him on the ongoing international negotiations on the issue. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Mottaki assured Oskanian that the Islamic Republic is committed to finding a negotiated solution to the dispute “within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
(Presidential press service photo: Manouchehr Mottaki is greated by President Robert Kocharian.)