TEHRAN (RFE/RL)–Underscoring their common interests in the region, Armenia and Iran vowed to further deepen their relations with more multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects formally approved by their presidents in Tehran on Tuesday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his visiting Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, were reported to sign eight agreements after two days of negotiations which they both described as productive.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed the agreements at a meeting with Sarkisian and Ahmadinejad later in the day. “The Iranian government and nation have enthusiastically welcomed expansion of amicable ties with the Armenian nation and government,” Khamenei said, according to Iran’s IRNA news agency.
“Existing ties between Iran and Armenia are very deep-rooted, friendly and developing,” the agency quoted Ahmadinejad as telling a joint news conference with Sarkisian. “Throughout their history the two nations have always trusted each other and enjoyed amicable ties.”
Ahmadinejad described as “very bright and promising” prospects for the development of those ties. “We are to broaden our cooperation at regional and international levels,” he said.
“We are able to bolster and broaden mutual and regional cooperation to help deepen and consolidate ties between the two nations,” Sarkisian agreed, according to IRNA.
One of the “memorandums of understanding” signed during Sarkisian’s official visit formalized the two governments’ ambitious plans to build a railway connecting Armenia and Iran. The 470-kilometer railway, the bulk of it passing through Armenian territory, is estimated to cost at least $1 billion.
Another Armenian-Iranian agreement calls for the construction of a big hydro-electric plant on the Arax river that separates the two neighboring countries. There was no word on the cost and other details of the project that were reportedly discussed by the Armenian and Iranian energy ministers on Monday. The two sides have been looking for foreign investors interested in financing the construction of the power plant and the railway.
Armenian-Iranian energy cooperation was already significantly boosted last December with the official inauguration of a pipeline designed to ship Iranian natural gas to Armenia. It is still not clear when Iranian gas deliveries will start, though. The Armenian and Iranian presidents did not publicly comment on the matter after their talks.
The talks began on Monday shortly after Sarkisian’s arrival in Tehran. A statement by the Armenian presidential press service said Sarkisian assured the Iranian leader that “Armenia attaches special importance to the dynamic expansion of relations with Iran.” He also thanked the Islamic Republic for letting its sole Christian neighbor use Iranian territory for cargo transit in “difficult times,” said the statement.
“Iran and Armenia should promote relations in different areas including trade, energy and transportation,” Ahmadinejad said, for his part. “An advanced and sustainable Armenia will be beneficial to the entire region,” he added, according to the Iranian Press TV.
The comments were echoed by Iran’s influential parliament speaker Ali Larijani during his separate meeting with Sarkisian. “Cooperation between Iran and Armenia is aimed at strengthening the foundations of sustainable regional peace and security,” IRNA quoted Larijani as saying.
Sarkisian, according to his press office, briefed Ahmadinejad on the latest developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and Armenia’s fence-mending negotiations with Turkey. He again praised Iran for its “balanced” position on the Karabakh conflict.