Diplomat Sees Bright Future for Iran Armenia Projects

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A number of ambitious economic projects between Iran and Armenia–including the construction of a gas pipeline and hydro-electric power station–will get off the ground by the end of this year–according to the Armenian ambassador in Tehran–Gegham Gharibjanian.

"I believe that this year we will at last take the first steps in the implementation of bilateral agreemen’s," Gharibjanian told RFE/RL in an interview on Tuesday.

The implementation of the agreemen’s–signed by the two countries several years ago–is held up by a host of reasons–notably problems with funding. Particularly important is the construction of a pipeline for shipping Iranian natural gas to Armenia and possibly Georgia. The pipeline would significantly reduce the two ex-Soviet republic’s dependence on Russia for energy resources. Some foreign companies and governmen’s have also shown interest in the $150 million project. However–the work has been hampered by differences over gas tariffs.

An Armenian foreign ministry spokesman’said last week that the price offered by the Iranians is far too high. But he added that Yerevan still hopes to reach a mutually acceptable deal with Tehran.

Some analysts have suggested that recent disputes with Russia’s Gazprom monopoly will make the Armenian authorities even more eager to have the pipeline built. Also interested are countries such as Ukraine and Greece.

Senior energy officials from Armenia–Greece and Iran – the countries making up a loose trilateral grouping – will meet in Yerevan later this month for talks that will be dominated by the pipeline issue. A Ukrainian deputy foreign minister–who was in the Armenian capital last–was quoted as saying that his country–which is also dependent on Russian gas–takes an interest in the project and is even willing to participate in the construction work.

In the words of Ambassador Gharibjanian–the gas pipeline from Iran is also beneficial because it could transform Armenia into a major transit state. "Iran is now actively seeking conduits to Georgia–Ukraine and Europe," he argued. Another project–which he said would "bring us serious benefits" is the joint construction of a hydro-electric station on the Arax river which servers as border between Iran and Armenia.

The United States–Armenia’s leading foreign donor–is thought to oppose Armenian-Iranian cooperation in the energy sector. A senior US energy official said in Yerevan earlier this year that Armenia’should instead try to tap the vast hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea.

Gharibjanian said he thinks that America’s relations with Iran are slowly but steadily improving and that Armenia could serve as a bridge linking the two bitter foes. "We must not act like a neutral observer. We must work in that direction because we are interested in peace and stability in the region," he said.

The Armenian diplomat also expressed optimism about the success of the policy of reform pursued by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. "Change in Iran is evident day by day," he said.

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