By Emil Danielyan
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Iran praised what they described as a growing “regional significance” of close relations between their nations after holding talks in Yerevan on Tuesday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, making his first official visit to Armenia since his appointment last September, reaffirmed the Islamic Republic’s desire to continue to deepen political and economic ties with its sole Christian neighbor. He pointed to the long history of Armenian-Iranian interactions which he said is “replete with mutual friendship and warmth.”
“We are building multi-faceted relations with our neighbor and friend Armenia,” Mottaki told a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian. “We are trying to ensure that they have a regional significance.”
“Our bilateral relations with Iran are developing pretty fast, becoming more comprehensive and deeper,” agreed Oskanian. “In fact, they are transcending the bilateral framework and taking on a regional significance.”
The two ministers said the talks focused on bilateral economic projects, notably the ongoing construction of a pipeline which will pump Iranian natural gas to Armenia. According to Oskanian, they also discussed the possibility of building a railway link between the two neighboring states in the future. The ambitious project would require hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
A separate statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Mottaki and Oskanian agreed on the need to step up bilateral cooperation “in all areas.” Meeting with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian later in the day, Mottaki said Tehran hopes it will encompass defense and security as well. The Iranian minister was also received by President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
Armenian leaders say they are confident that economic cooperation with Iran will not put them at odds with the United States which has long accused the Islamic regime of sponsoring international terrorism and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Speaking to journalists on February 3, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans indicated that Washington does not object to the Armenian-Iranian energy projects because they do not violate U.S. sanctions against Tehran. But Evans also said that he has repeatedly talked to Armenian officials “to be sure that they are watching this question so as not to bring the American legislation [against Iran] into effect.”
Incidentally, an official from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan was present at Mottaki’s news conference, underscoring his government’s interest in Armenian-Iranian dealings and its concerns about Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Washington was instrumental in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s decision last week to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council.
Mottaki denied that his visit to Yerevan is somehow connected with the IAEA decision. Still, the nuclear row was on the agenda of his meetings with Kocharian and Markarian. A statement by Kocharian’s press service quoted Mottaki as assuring the Armenian president that Iran is not intent on possessing nuclear weapons. For his part, Markarian was cited by his office as voicing concern about the escalating crisis and expressing hope that it will be settled “by means of negotiations.”
Mottaki accused Western powers of pursuing a policy of “nuclear apartheid” against his nation. “We are determined to assert our right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes,” he said. “The United States had better address problems it has created for its people.”
Mottaki further reiterated Iran’s strong condemnation of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in the European press and held up the Armenian-Iranian relationship as a “nice example of mutual respect for different religions.”