By Armen Zakarian
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will likely arrive in Armenia later this year for an official visit that will cement warm relations between the two neighboring states, a senior Armenian diplomat said on Saturday.
“The visit will most probably take place by the end of this year,” Armenia’s ambassador to Iran, Gegham Gharibjanian, told RFE/RL in Yerevan.
An official invitation was extended to Khatami by President Robert Kocharian in December during his trip to Tehran. Gharibjanian said it was reaffirmed by the chief of Kocharian’s staff, Artashes Tumanian, who was in the Iranian capital last month.
Khatami will become the Islamic Republic’s first president to pay an official visit Armenia, Iran’s sole Christian neighbor.
The United States, which accuses Iran of being part of a global “axis of evil,” has recently signaled its unease over Yerevan’s deepening ties with Tehran. A senior U.S. diplomat said Washington hopes that Armenia will counter Iran’s alleged plans to develop weapons of mass destruction and support for Middle Eastern terrorism. The remarks were followed by the imposition of U.S. sanctions against an Armenian chemical company and a businessman accused of transferring sensitive equipment to Iran in breach of international export controls.
The company called Lizin has denied any wrongdoing. The Armenian government, for its part, has said it is not responsible for Lizin’s commercial deals. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian assured reporters last month that the embarrassing affair will not affect Armenia’s simultaneously good relations with the U.S. and Iran.
Gharibjanian said the Armenian and Iranian governments are continuing to work on multimillion-dollar joint commercial projects, including the construction of a major gas pipeline. He said an inter-governmental commission on Iranian-Armenian economic cooperation will hold its next meeting in Tehran next September.