Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad cancelled a visit to Armenia just hours before his planned arrival in Yerevan on Monday for reasons that were not immediately clear.
The visit was announced by the Iranian government late last month and confirmed by President Serzh Sarkisian’s office on Saturday. The latter gave no details of its agenda, though.
In a short statement issued on Monday, the Armenian presidential press service said the trip has been put off “by mutual consent.” “It will be undertaken in due course,” it said without elaboration.
The official Iranian IRNA news agency quoted a spokesman for Ahmadinejad, Mohammad-Hassan Salehi-Maram, as saying that the Armenian side “did not prepare documents” that were due to be signed in Yerevan. The official did not specify what those documents are.
According to another Tehran-based agency, ISNA, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast gave a similar reason for the extraordinary delay. Mehmanparast expressed confidence that the unspecified documents will be finalized and the Iranian leader will visit Armenia “in the near future.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran and Armenia enjoy friendly relations and good neighborliness and authorities of the two countries are continuously in contact,” he was reported to say.
Ahmadinejad was due to fly to Yerevan one week after a regular session of an Iranian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation that was held in Tehran. The meeting was co-chaired by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi and Armenian Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian.
Salehi and Movsisian signed a memorandum of understanding to boost cooperation on oil, gas and electricity and expand overall economic ties between the two neighboring countries. A key element of that cooperation is joint Armenian-Iranian energy projects.
Those include the construction of two hydro-electric plants on the Arax river marking the Armenian-Iranian border and a pipeline that will ship Iranian fuel to Armenia. The two sides also plan to start building soon a third high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids.
It is not clear whether these projects require the signing of additional Armenian-Iranian agreements.
Vahan Hovannisian, a senior parliamentarian and a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, suggested that the visit was postponed because of other issues. “In all likelihood, some issues requiring the clarification of the Armenian side’s position were added to the agenda of the Iranian president’s visit at the last minute,” he told journalists. “My words are not based on mere assumptions.”
Hovannisian would not be drawn on those issues. He said only that Ahmadinejad will travel to Armenia after Yerevan clears up its position on them.
Alexander Arzumanian, another opposition politician who served as Armenia’s foreign minister from 1996-1998, linked the trip cancellation with the latest developments in international efforts to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He specifically cited a recent joint statement by the U.S., Russian and French presidents that raised fresh hopes for an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always been jealous about not being represented in processes going over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He argued that Iranian officials have repeatedly voiced strong opposition to the possible deployment of a Western-led peacekeeping force in the conflict zone, which is very close to Iran’s northwestern frontier.
Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev are expected to meet again later this month for what could prove to be decisive peace talks.
Arzumanian noted at the same time that domestic Iranian politics may have also been a reason. Ahmadinejad is increasingly locked in a power struggle with the Islamic Republic’s clerical leadership
The Iranian president is facing a deadline to name an oil minister and OPEC envoy ahead of a meeting of that oil-exporting group scheduled for June 8. His attempt to take over supervision of the Oil Ministry and lead the Iranian delegation to OPEC himself was thwarted by the Guardians Council vetting body and parliament.
Ali Geranmayeh, a former Iranian diplomat who now teaches international relations at the SOAS university in London, agreed that this uncertainty might have forced Ahmadinejad not to leave the country for the time being. “But there may have also been external reasons, including Turkey’s approaches to Armenian-Iranian relations,” he told RFE/RL.