By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian is likely to sign a final agreement on the delayed construction of a strategically important pipeline to transport Iranian gas to Armenia during his upcoming visit to Tehran, officials in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
Work on the 140 kilometer pipeline was initially expected to start at the beginning of this year but is still being held up by uncertainty over sources of construction funding and differences over the price of Iranian gas.
Two Armenian ministers claimed that the two neighboring states have already worked out the main terms of the $120 million project and will at last seal the deal at the summit in Tehran, tentatively scheduled for late December.
“It is envisaged that an agreement on that project will be signed during the president’s visit,” Energy Minister Karen Galustian said as he opened an Armenian-Iranian seminar in Yerevan. The three-day seminar, attended by a large delegation of Iranian energy officials, is to discuss ways of furthering bilateral cooperation in the energy sector.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, told reporters earlier in the day that the agreement on the Iran-Armenia pipeline is mostly ready and its construction will start early next year if the parties settle “one or two” remaining differences. He said: “I cannot say whether or not the final agreement will be signed during the president’s upcoming visit. But the likelihood of that is fairly high.”
Armenia, which generates nearly half of its electricity by Russian natural gas, hopes that access to Iranian gas will ease its heavy dependence on Russian for energy resources. The Russian government has so far sent conflicting signals about its intentions regarding the project. The state-controlled Gazprom monopoly has repeatedly expressed interest in participating in the construction work.
But a Russian deputy prime minister, Viktor Khristenko, warned in September that any pipeline “must connect countries, not to draw dividing lines between them.” He at the same time stressed that competition between the Russian and Iranian gas industries is "unavoidable and we should not be afraid of it."