By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia will start on Tuesday the long-awaited work on a key section of a strategic pipeline that will allow it to import Iranian natural gas in two years from now, officials said on Monday.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian and his Iranian counterpart will lead an official ceremony in Agarak, a small town near the Iranian border, dedicated to the event. The construction of the pipeline’s 100-kilometer stretch passing through Iranian territory reportedly got underway last year.
“We are talking about the construction of the first 40-kilometer section of the pipeline which, as you know, will be built with a $30 million loan provided by the Iranian side,” Lusine Harutiunian, the spokeswoman for the Armenian Energy Ministry, told RFE/RL. “We plan to complete the construction by January 1, 2007.”
The loan was formally extended during Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s September visit to Armenia when the two neighboring states signed a final agreement on the project after a decade of negotiations. The deal was finalized during Iranian Oil and Gas Minister Bizhan Zangane’s talks in Yerevan last May.
The Armenian government says the pipeline will bolster Armenia’s vital relationship with the Islamic Republic and provide it with an alternative source of natural gas which generates about 40 percent of its energy. The economically struggling country presently imports the fuel from Russia through an aging pipeline running across Georgia.
The 42-kilometer section of the new pipeline will run from the Iranian border to the southeastern town of Kajaran through one of Armenia’s most rocky terrains. A mountain pass near Kajaran is the highest in the country.
Armenia is due to repay the Iranian loan with energy supplies. The two governments already engage in a seasonal swap of electricity and plan to boost it dramatically with a second high-voltage transmission line linking their power grids. Harutiunian said Armenian and Iranian officials will inaugurate the line at a separate ceremony on Tuesday.