YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad reaffirmed Iran’s desire to expand political and economic links with Armenia during weekend talks in Tehran with his visiting Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian.
The two men reviewed bilateral ties and, in particular, the implementation of Armenian-Iranian commercial projects on the sidelines of official celebrations of the ancient Persian Nowruz holiday.
Sarkisian attended the festivities along with the presidents of Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Several other regional states were represented by more low-level officials.
According to Iran’s English-language Press TV network, Ahmadinejad told Sarkisian on Sunday that Tehran “has placed no limits on the development of cooperation with Yerevan” and wants to deepen ties between the two “friendly neighbors.”
The Iranian Fars news agency reported that the talks focused on ways of “strengthening bilateral cooperation and good neighborly relations.” It said Ahmadinejad stressed the importance of the multimillion-dollar energy and transport projects approved by the two governments.
A statement by the Armenian presidential press service said Sarkisian also reaffirmed Yerevan’s strong interest in their implementation. It said the two presidents specifically discussed ambitions plans to build a railway connecting Armenia with Iran.
The railway construction is estimated to cost at least $1 billion. Neither government has so far identified concrete sources of funding for the project.
Yerevan and Tehran are much closer to starting work on two hydro-electric plants on the Arax river marking the Armenian-Iranian border and a pipeline that will ship Iranian fuel to Armenia.
In a speech delivered during the Nowruz celebrations later on Sunday, Sarkisian described the Armenian-Iranian relationship as “truly exemplary.” “Our friendship and the existence of a thriving Armenian community in Iran is a good example of cooperation and mutual enrichment of the Christian and Islamic civilizations,” he said.
“Cooperation between Armenia and Iran is a history of friendship, tolerance, mutual respect and cultural dialogue,” he added.
Sarkisian’s press office said on Friday that the Armenian leader is also scheduled to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. However, no such meeting was reported by official Armenian and Iranian sources by Monday evening.
The Armenian and Iranian foreign ministers held separate talks in Tehran on Sunday. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said they discussed a “wide range issues related to bilateral relations.”
The Islamic Republic’s growing ties its sole Christian neighbor appear to have caused serious unease in Azerbaijan. In a series of public statements made last month, several pro-government members of Azerbaijan’s parliament accused Iran of pursuing an “anti-Azerbaijani” policy and demanded that Baku scale back relations with Tehran.
The Azerbaijani government has until now avoided endorsing such accusations or publicly demanding that Iran join in Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s long-running economic blockade of Armenia. Still, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was conspicuously absent from the Nowruz celebrations in Tehran.