TEHRAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian arrived in Tehran Monday on an official visit which he hopes will cement Armenia’s already close political and economic ties with Iran.
Reports from Tehran said Sarkisian went straight into talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was also scheduled to meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and the head of Iran’s National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, during the two-day trip.
Sarkisian was accompanied by a high-ranking Armenian delegation comprising the governor of the Central Bank of Armenia, Artur Javadian, and five government ministers. One of them, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, flew to Tehran ahead of the president’s visit.
Sarkisian’s talks with Ahmadinejad, which began in the one-on-one format, were due to be followed by the signing of more Armenian-Iranian agreements aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. The most important of them calls for the construction of a 470-kilometer railway connecting the two neighboring countries. It was finalized by the Armenian and Iranian transport ministers in Yerevan last week.
The ministers said that work on the railway will take at least three years and cost up to $1.2 billion. The two governments hope to attract funding for the ambitious project from third countries and international lending institutions.
The project was high on the agenda of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s March 13 visit to Yerevan. Mottaki said Armenia and Iran share “common interests” in the region and should therefore deepen their ties.
The Armenian and Iranian ministers of transport signed a preliminary “memorandum of understanding” in Yerevan on March 13 formalizing plans to construct a railway that would connect the two neighboring countries and significantly boost economic cooperation between them. The final version of the document will be signed by the Armenian President during his trip.