The Armenian Defense Ministry announced the trip on Thursday as President Serzh Sarkisian told a visiting top Pentagon official that Armenia is committed to bolstering defense and security ties with the United States.
A ministry statement said Ohanian will meet Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, and Iran’s “military-political leadership.” “Issues of regional, international and bilateral interest will be discussed during the meetings,” the ministry said in a statement. It gave no details.
Ohanian is the first Armenian defense minister to travel to the Islamic Republic in more than five years. Vahidi’s predecessor, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, visited Yerevan and signed a “memorandum on cooperation” with his then Armenian counterpart, Mikael Harutiunian, in November 2007.
Harutiunian said at the time that the document “will serve as a ground for cooperation in the future for the benefit of the peaceful existence of the two friendly nations.” The Armenian and Iranian militaries will also “deepen cooperation in the area of supply of foodstuffs and other items,” he said without elaboration.
Armenian-Iranian inter-governmental dealings have been dominated by joint commercial projects mainly relating to energy. Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said this week that the two governments will soon start building a hydro-electric station on the Armenian-Iranian border, a third high-voltage transmission lines linking their power grids as well as a pipeline that will pump Iranian oil products into Armenia.
Vahidi and other Iranian leaders should also discuss with the Armenian defense chief the latest developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Iran’s ambassador in Yerevan warned late last month that Tehran would not tolerate U.S. participation in a multinational peace-keeping force that would be deployed around Karabakh after the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord. He claimed that Washington wants to have troops in Azerbaijan’s Armenian-controlled Fizuli district bordering Iran.
Ohanian will be put in a delicate position by the fact that Vahidi is regarded by the United States, Argentina and Israel as a key suspect in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. All three nations deplored President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s decision to appoint him as defense minister, which was endorsed by the Iranian parliament last September.
Interpol has long distributed Argentina’s warrant for Vahidi's arrest. Tehran denies any involvement in the attack.
An Armenian Defense Ministry official insisted on Thursday that “there is nothing extraordinary” about Ohanian deciding to meet a man who remains on the Interpol wanted list. “The visit will be open,” the official, who did not want to be identified, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Everyone understands that Armenia and Iran are neighboring countries that need to have normal relations.”
Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian meets with Celeste Wallander, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, in Yerevan, 16July 2010.
Incidentally, Ohanian was scheduled to meet with Celeste Wallander, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Policy, in Yerevan before his departure to Tehran.
President Serzh Sarkisian received Wallander earlier on Thursday. A statement by Sarkisian’s office said the two “stressed the importance of further strengthening Armenian-American cooperation in the areas of defense and security, and the U.S. assistance to the reform and modernization of Armenia’s armed forces.”
Sarkisian was quoted as saying that closer ties between Armenia and the United States are important for regional peace and security. According to the statement, Wallander praised Yerevan for sending over 40 troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.
The Pentagon official discussed with Sarkisian and Ohanian Armenia’s involvement in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan during her previous trip to Yerevan last December. She also visited the Yerevan headquarters of an Armenian army unit that provides troops for military missions abroad.