AKARAG (Combined Sources)–The presidents of Armenia and Iran formally opened the first (25 mile) section of a natural gas pipeline linking the two countries on Monday, in the town of Meghri, just over the border from Iran. "Just 15 years ago, in Meghri, there was nothing that could connect our countries," said Armenian President Robert Kocharian. "There were only the barbed-wire fences that symbolized the border of the Soviet Union. That’s a fact. The bridge on which I greeted my Iranian counterpart today didn’t exist. But just last year, 600,000 tons of goods were transported over that bridge alone." Under the first stage of the project, Iran is to deliver up to 14 billion cubic feet of gas a year; when the pipeline is completed and extends to the capital, Yerevan, the volume could rise to 88 billion cubic feet a year. The project was launched in 2004 after more than a decade of negotiations. Armenia has sought closer ties with Iran because of an economic blockade imposed by neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey because of the Mountainous Karabagh conflict. "Armenia is willing to use Iran’s experience in various fields, including establishment of refinery and power plant, connection of the railway networks of the two countries and cooperation on development of the infrastructures of Armenia’s telecommunication," Kocharian added. Surrounded by local villagers, the two presidents lit a symbolic torch at the ceremony, which was delayed for hours after heavy fog prevented Ahmadinejad’s helicopter from flying to the area. He eventually arrived by car. "Our relations have deepened over the last 15 years and it is my intention to develop them further," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during the ceremony. He said that he hoped to increase cross-border cooperation in a range of fields, including electricity, energy, water, and telecoms. The pipeline will also reduce Armenia’s reliance on increasingly expensive Russian gas. Russia, which supplies most of Armenia’s gas, had objected to the project. Armenian officials said last year they were discussing the prospect of Russia’s natural-gas monopoly Gazprom purchasing the Armenian section of the pipeline from Iran.