YEREVAN (Combined Sources)—Iran and Armenia may soon lift visa requirements for their citizens travelling to each other’s country, according to the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Mohammad Reisi, RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) reports.
In an interview with the ArmNews TV channel aired this week, Reisi also announced that Iranian President Hassan Rohani will travel to Armenia later this year on an official visit that will underscore close ties between the two neighboring states. “The visit will take place in the course of this year,” he said without specifying a concrete date.
President Serzh Sarkisian was among a dozen foreign heads of state who attended Rohani’s inauguration in Tehran last August. The two leaders held separate talks following the ceremony. Rohani was reported to tell Sarkisian that the Islamic Republic is keen to expand its “deeply-rooted” ties with Armenia.
Rohani’s controversial predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, paid an official visit to Yerevan in late 2011. It focused, in large measure, on the implementation of Armenian-Iranian energy projects that had fallen behind schedule. Those include the construction of a hydro-electric plant on the Arax river serving as the Armenian-Iranian border.
Reisi implied that Rohani’s visit will come after the next meeting of an Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. He said the commission should discuss not only the energy projects but also ambitious plans to build a railway connecting the two countries.
“The best indicator of Armenian-Iranian mutual trust is that the visa regime between the two states may well be abolished,” Reisi added in the ArmNews interview. “In order to facilitate contacts between the two peoples, we have communicated to the Armenian side our readiness to put in place a visa-free regime.”
Tehran has long been seeking visa-free travel between Armenia and Iran. Successive Armenian governments have been lukewarm about the idea.
The existing visa requirements have not prevented a sharp rise in the number of Iranian tourists visiting Armenia over the past decade. It reached a record-high level of more than 100,000 in 2011.
“I hope that one day one million Iranian tourists will visit Armenia,” then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said during a November 2011 trip to Yerevan. “I also hope that one day a visa-free regime will be established between the two countries and crossing our border will be as easy as travelling inside our countries.”
Efforts to Reduce Arax River Pollution
In a meeting on Wednesday, Iran’s energy minister and Armenia’s minister of environmental protection agreed to step up joint efforts to monitor and reduce water pollution in the Arax River, Tasnim news agency reported.
The Iranian capital of Tehran hosted Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian and the visiting Armenian Minister of Environmental Protection Aram Harutyunian, who discussed a range of environmental issues, including active cooperation to tackle pollution in the River Arax.
The rising pollution levels in the border river have been blamed mainly on discharge of untreated waste from an Armenian copper factory into the river’s water.
In the meeting, the two ministers, accompanied by their senior advisers, decided that Iran and Armenia should put efforts into monitoring water pollution in Arax and take measures to stop the discharge of toxic waste from the copper factory into the river.