YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The presidents of Armenia and Iran pledged on Friday to further expand “high-level relations” between their nations and, in particular, give new impetus to the implementation of joint energy projects that have fallen behind schedule.
Serzh Sarkisian and Mahmud Ahmadinejad also called for a “diplomatic” solution to Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West, saying after talks in Yerevan that it should uphold Tehran’s right to the “peaceful use of atomic energy.”
In a joint communiqué issued at the end of Ahmadinejad’s one-day visit to Armenia, the two leaders said that they “reaffirmed their determination to further develop bilateral friendly and mutually beneficial relations.”
“We have had very good negotiations with Mr. President,” Ahmadinejad told Armenian and Iranian officials after a one-on-one conversation with his Armenian counterpart. “I said that nobody in the world can change the map between Armenia and Iran.”
“Historically we have always had good relations and they are being preserved today,” he said.
“I am very happy that we arrived at very important conclusions in my conversation with Mr. President,” Sarkisian said, for his part. “That will very much help to further deep our relations.”
According to Sarkisian, they specifically agreed to speed up the ongoing construction of a third transmission line connecting the Armenian and Iranian power grids and accelerate other commercial projects.
Those include the construction of two hydroelectric plants on the Arax river marking the Armenian-Iranian border and a pipeline that will ship Iranian fuel to Armenia. Work on these facilities was due to start this year but has been delayed for unclear reasons.
“These projects have fallen slightly behind schedule not because of the Armenian side but because of situations in Iran,” Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian told journalists on Thursday. Movsisian did not elaborate, saying only that he hopes the construction will start next year.
Movsisian and a top Iranian official signed on Friday a protocol on amendments to a 2007 Armenian-Iranian agreement on the Arax plant. The document was not made public.
The presidential communiqué signed in Yerevan said Ahmadinejad and Sarkisian instructed their relevant government ministries to “make every effort to move the mentioned projects into a practical phase in the next six months.” It also stressed the need for completing the new high-voltage line “as early as possible.”
Sarkisian said the projects’ implementation will give a massive boost to Armenian-Iranian trade which is projected to reach $300 million this year. He said he and Ahmadinejad agreed that this volume is “too small for the two friendly and neighboring states.”
According to the communiqué, the two leaders also discussed the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, broader regional security and “non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” They expressed Yerevan’s and Tehran’s “commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
“They noted the right of all countries, including Armenia and Iran, to the peaceful use of atomic energy,” said the document. “The presidents of the two countries stressed the importance of resolving Iran’s nuclear issue by means of negotiations and in diplomatic ways.”
Tensions between Iran and the West have risen again of late after the UN’s nuclear watchdog suggested that Tehran might be secretly developing a nuclear arms capability. The report has fuelled renewed talk of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Armenia has always avoided any public criticism of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, underscoring the Islamic Republic’s perceived importance for its security and economic development. Unresolved bitter disputes with its two other Muslim neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, make Iran one of the landlocked country’s two conduits to the outside world.
Davit Hovannisian, a prominent Armenian expert on the Middle East and a retired diplomat, said Armenia is also “a very important partner” for Iran. “Armenia plays a certain balancing role in this region, serving as a counterweight to Turkish-Azerbaijani-Georgia cooperation which Iran perceives to be a certain threat to its interests,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.