Gas Pipeline On Agenda As Armenia Greece Iran Officials Meet Again

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The planned construction of a strategic gas pipeline carrying Iranian natural gas to Armenia and possibly third countries dominated a meeting in Yerevan on Tuesday between senior energy officials from Armenia–Greece and Iran–officials said.

The fourth session of the trilateral Energy Committee discussed the progress of a feasibility study conducted by a Greek company with the aim of ascertaining the economic viability of the pipeline and costs involved. The work is financed by the Greek government–in an indication of official Athens’s interest in the project–which is estimated to cost some $150 million.

"The representative of the Hellenic ASPROFOS company presented the progress of the Pre-feasibility Study of the Armenia-Iran Gas Pipeline project," said a memorandum released by the committee–which is part of a loose economic grouping uniting the three states. "The Armenian and Iranian Parties expressed their appreciation to the Hellenic Party for the provision of relevant financial implications of the study," it said.

Armenian Deputy Minister of Energy Robert Nazarian told reporters that ASPROFOS has requested additional information about the projected capacity of the pipeline–the time frame for its construction and the expected price of Iranian gas. He said the Greek firm–which had received $150,000 to conduct the study–has promised to submit its findings "in three months time."

Energy officials envisage that the future pipeline–which would cross mountainous terrain in southeastern Armenia–will pump up to five million cubic meters of gas a day. Armenian officials have said before that they have yet to agree with the Iranians on the price of the imported fuel. Armenia currently imports 3 to 3.5 million cubic meters of Russian gas on a daily basis.

The new pipeline is also intended for shipmen’s of Iranian gas to Georgia and other states that are dependent on Russia for energy resources. A senior Ukrainian official said in Yerevan last month that his country also takes an interest in the project.

In the words of Nazarian–the next step after the feasibility study will be the search for investors willing to finance the construction work. Russia’s Gazprom monopoly as well as French–Japanese and Chinese firms have already expressed readiness to participate in the project–he said. The United States–which has tried to isolate Iran for the last two decades–has on several occasions made clear that Armenia’should instead rely in the future on the vast hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian region. But Nazarian played down US opposition to the Armenia-Iran pipeline–predicting that relations between Washington and Tehran will eventually improve.

"American-Iranian relations remain strained and quite naturally–the United States is not interested in the implementation of this project because we thereby contribute to the development of the Iranian economy. But I think that problem will be solved over time," he said.

The tripartite energy body also explored the possibility of setting up a "joint venture in the renewable energy sector" and agreed to work out "the schedule of exchange visits of engineers and technicians for on-job," according to the memorandum. "The Parties reviewed the state of trilateral cooperation in the field of energy–and reiterated their willingness to further increase the efficiency of arrangemen’s reached upon," the document summed up.

Two other standing committees of the Armenia-Greece-Iran grouping have also convened in Yerevan this month.

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