A senior government official and top executives of those companies signed a relevant agreement in Yerevan on Monday in the presence of Armenia’s Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Gnel Sanosian and Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrzad Bazrpash.
“We are very happy that … Iranian companies will carry out the construction of this road section,” Sanosian said at the signing ceremony.
“Our neighbor, Armenia, is very important to us,” Bazrpash said, for his part. “Armenia could play a key role in the framework of the [transnational] North-South transport corridor. I hope that the project will be implemented rapidly.”
The project co-financed by the Armenian government and the Eurasian Development Bank covers the highway section stretching from Agarak, an Armenian town adjacent to the Iranian border, to the Kajaran mountain pass, the highest in Armenia. About two-thirds of the road is to be expanded and modernized while the remaining 11 kilometers will be built from scratch over the next three years. In Sanosian’s words, the Iranians will construct 17 bridges and two tunnels in the mountainous area.
Another, much longer tunnel planned by the Armenian side will cut through the Kajaran pass. The government has organized an international tender for its construction, which will further shorten travel time between the two neighboring states.
Bazrpash also announced that the Yerevan and Tehran have agreed to build a new bridge over the Arax river that marks the Armenian-Iranian border. The two governments will set up a joint working group for that purpose, he told reporters.
The Iranian minister’s presence at the signing ceremony appeared to also underscore the geopolitical significance of the project.
Azerbaijan’s recent takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh raised more fears in Yerevan that Baku will also attack Armenia to open an exterritorial land corridor to Nakhichevan passing through Syunik, the sole Armenian province bordering Iran. Azerbaijani leaders regularly demand such a corridor. A senior Armenian diplomat claimed on October 8 that an Azerbaijani attack on Syunik may be “a matter of weeks.”
Iran has repeatedly warned against attempts to strip it of the common border and transport links with Armenia. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reportedly told visiting Armenian and Azerbaijani officials early this month that the corridor sought by Baku is “resolutely opposed by Iran” because it would give NATO a “foothold” in the region.
NATO member Turkey fully supports the Azerbaijani demands. Its troops began on Monday a fresh military exercise with the Azerbaijani army in Nakhichevan and parts of mainland Azerbaijan close to Syunik. The drills reportedly involve 3,000 soldiers and several Turkish F-16 warplanes.
The United States and the European Union voiced strong support for Armenia’s territorial integrity following the latest escalation in Karabakh. The U.S. State Department said on October 15 that “any infringement of that sovereignty and territorial integrity would bring serious consequences.”