By Anna Saghabalian
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised his country’s “excellent” relationship with Armenia on Monday as he began a two-day official visit to Yerevan largely focusing on bilateral cooperation in the energy sector.
Speaking after talks with President Robert Kocharian, Ahmadinejad said Iran remains committed to deepening ties with Armenia as it believes they are “very important” for the two nations and the region as a whole. “An independent Armenia, a developed Armenia is beneficial for the region and regional security,” he said.
Ahmadinejad also emphasized the fact that he and his Armenian counterpart are meeting for the third time in 16 months. “This testifies that relations between the two countries are strong, stable and developing,” he told a joint news conference with Kocharian.
Kocharian described their latest meeting “very frank and open” and thanked the Islamic Republic for making relations with its sole Christian neighbor a “priority.” “I would especially note our projects in the energy sector,” he said. “The construction of the gas pipeline [that will pump Iranian natural gas to Armenia] is continuing.”
“We discussed and reaffirmed the possibility of building an oil refinery [in Armenia] and an [Armenian-Iranian] railway,” Kocharian added, referring to fresh multimillion-dollar Armenian-Iranian projects which are currently undergoing feasibility studies.
The refinery project also enjoys the backing of Russia’s government and energy corporations like Gazprom. The latter has expressed readiness to investing most of an estimated $1 billion needed for building the facility in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region bordering Iran. The refinery would process Iranian crude oil and cater for the Iranian market.
Ahmadinejad and Kocharian met in Syunik last March during the inauguration of the first Armenian section of the gas pipeline from Iran. The pipeline’s second, much longer section is expected to be completed by the end of next year. Much of Iranian gas to be supplied to Armenia will be converted into electricity that will in turn be delivered to Iran. The two states are currently building a third high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids.
Kocharian also announced that he will open later this week a second, bigger Armenian highway leading to the Iranian border. He said the mountainous road will allow for a major increase in Armenian-Iranian trade.
The volume of bilateral commercial exchange rose by 22 percent to just over $100 million in the first eight months of this year. Still, Iran accounted for less than 4 percent of Armenia’s overall external trade.
The talks between Ahmadinejad and Kocharian were followed by the signing of Armenian-Iranian agreements on mutual protection of investments, cooperation between the two countries’ central banks and regular high-level diplomatic contacts. The Iranian president met with students and professors at Yerevan State University later in the day.