YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised his country’s "excellent" relationship with Armenia on Monday as he began a two-day official visit to Yerevan largely focusing on bilateral cooperation in the energy sector.
Speaking after talks with President Robert Kocharian, Ahmadinejad said Iran remains committed to deepening ties with Armenia as it believes they are "very important" for the two nations and the region as a whole. "An independent Armenia, a developed Armenia is beneficial for the region and regional security," he said.
During a joint press conference with Kocharian, Ahmadinejad emphasized the fact that he and his Armenian counterpart are meeting for the third time in 16 months. "This testifies that relations between the two countries are strong, stable and developing," he said.
Kocharian described their latest meeting "very frank and open" and thanked the Islamic Republic for making relations with its sole Christian neighbor a "priority."I would especially note our projects in the energy sector," he said. "The construction of the gas pipeline [that will pump Iranian natural gas to Armenia] is continuing."
"We discussed and reaffirmed the possibility of building an oil refinery [in Armenia] and an [Armenian-Iranian] railway," Kocharian added, referring to fresh multimillion-dollar Armenian-Iranian projects that are currently undergoing feasibility studies.
The refinery project also enjoys the backing of Russia’s government and energy corporations like Gazprom. The latter has expressed readiness to investing most of an estimated $1 billion needed for building the facility in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region bordering Iran. The refinery would process Iranian crude oil and cater for the Iranian market.
Ahmadinejad and Kocharian met in Syunik last March during the inauguration of the first Armenian section of the gas pipeline from Iran. The pipeline’s second, much longer section is expected to be completed by the end of next year. Much of Iranian gas to be supplied to Armenia will be converted into electricity that will in turn be delivered to Iran. The two states are currently building a third high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids.
Kocharian also announced that he will open later this week a second, bigger Armenian highway leading to the Iranian border. He said the mountainous road will allow for a major increase in Armenian-Iranian trade.
Earlier this month, Iran opened its borders to Armenian trucks transporting goods to Iranian ports on the Caspian Sea, a more direct route for goods destined for Central Asia or southern Russia than the alternative route through Georgia.
The volume of bilateral commercial exchange rose by 22 percent to just over $100 million in the first eight months of this year. Still, Iran accounted for less than 4 percent of Armenia’s overall external trade.
The talks between Ahmadinejad and Kocharian were followed by the signing of Armenian-Iranian agreemen’s on mutual protection of investmen’s, cooperation between the two countries’ central banks and regular high-level diplomatic contacts.
The two leaders did not touch on international issues at their news conference, but Ahmadinejad later launched a thinly veiled attack on U.S. policy in a speech at the Armenian State University.
"The world must be governed by good, striving for justice and morality," Ahmadinejad said. "If the leaders of great powers proceeded from these values, there wouldn’t have been occupation of Iraq … and bloodshed in Afghanistan and Palestine."
Later in the day, the Iranian President delivered a speech at Yerevan University where he received an honorary PhD and a medal.
During his two-day stay, the Iranian president is to confer with his Kocharian on issues of mutual interest as well as the latest regional and international developmen’s. He will also make a keynote address at the Armenian National Assembly.
On the second day of his official visit, the Iranian president will visit the memorial complex commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide, meet with the Iranian community in Armenia and visit the Blue Mosque in Yerevan.
Kocharian was Ahmadinejad’s guest last year in Tehran, and in March the two presidents formally opened the first Armenian section of a natural gas pipeline between the two countries.
"We seriously intend to develop joint oil and gas projects," Kocharian said Monday.
The agreemen’s are important for landlocked Armenia, which has struggled with power shortages and transport blockades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey have shut their borders with Armenia in the wake of a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.