By Emil Danielyan
Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami will visit Armenia this September to cement the “friendly relationship” between the two neighboring states, official Yerevan announced on Thursday.
It will be the first official visit to the country by an Iranian head of state since the break-up of the Soviet Union. It has long been planned by the two governments.
Artashes Tumanian, the chief of President Robert Kocharian’s staff, was in Tehran earlier this week to discuss final preparations for the trip, the presidential office reported. It said Tumanian met with Khatami, Iran’s national security chief Hasan Rowhani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as well as the ministers of finance, energy, transport and oil during three days of negotiation. The two sides welcomed recent years’ progress in Armenian-Iranian relations and agreed that those now have a “strategic significance,” it added.
Tumanian’s meetings in Tehran followed the signing in Yerevan on May 13 of a bilateral agreement paving the way for the long-awaited construction of a 140-kilometer pipeline that will deliver Iranian natural gas to Armenia. The gas supplies are scheduled to begin in 2007.
Kocharian’s office said the two sides reaffirmed plans to “promptly begin” work on the pipeline, the 40-kilometer Armenian section of which is estimated to cost $120 million. It said Tumanian also discussed with the Iranian leaders the implementation of other major bilateral projects such as the construction of a hydro-electric power plant on the river Arax separating the two countries and a mountain tunnel in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region bordering Iran.