TEHRAN (RFE/RL) — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani spoke of “bright prospects” for deepening Armenian-Iranian relations and called on Armenia to join the Islamic Republic in fighting against “terrorism” in the broader region during talks with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian in Tehran on Monday.
In an apparent reference to Islamic State (ISIL) militants in Syria and Iraq, Rouhani was reported to denounce “terrorists targeting civilizations and humanity” and indiscriminately killing both Christians and Muslims.
“He said Iran and Armenia and all regional states should join forces to fight terrorism because security in the region will become sustainable only through collective cooperation,” reported the official IRNA news agency. “He said security is a non-dividable category and if a country suffers from terrorism, other countries will suffer too.”
It was not clear just how Armenia can, from the Iranian perspective, contribute to Tehran’s efforts to combat the ISIL. Official Yerevan condemned the Sunni jihadist movement as a “plague threatening the civilized world” following the reported destruction by ISIL militants of an Armenian church in eastern Syria last month.
Abrahamian’s press office made no explicit references to this issue in a statement on his meeting with Rouhani. The Armenian premier was cited as praising his country’s warm ties with Iran “based on centuries-old friendship of our peoples,” said the statement. It said the two men discussed the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and “regional issues” in additional to bilateral ties.
According to IRNA, Rouhani “called for fully using the existing capacity to expand relations” between the two neighboring states. He said there are “bright prospect” for doing that because both governments are committed to closer ties.
Abrahamian was received by the Iranian president during an official visit to Tehran. He also held talks with Iran’s First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri that apparently focused on bilateral economic cooperation and, in particular, Armenian-Iranian energy projects. Energy Minister Yervand Zakharian was among six Armenian cabinet members who accompanied Abrahamian on the trip.
The Iranian Mehr news agency quoted Jahangiri as telling the press after the talks that the two sides discussed their long-running plans to build a hydroelectric plant on the Arax river marking their border and a third high-voltage transmission line that would connect their power grids. But neither he nor Abrahamian announced any dates for the implementation of these joint projects, which stalled recently.
The $350 million hydroelectric project was supposedly launched two years ago at a ceremony attended by President Serzh Sarkisian. However, it emerged late last year that the Arax plant’s construction has still not begun.
Iran’s ambassador to Armenia, Mohammad Reisi, has blamed the delay on serious restrictions imposed by Yerevan on cash operations between Armenian and Iranian banks due to Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Reisi said in March that the ongoing easing of those sanctions bodes well for the project’s implementation.
Also, Armenian Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian said in May that work on the power transmission line has been frozen because “the bank financing it has run into difficulties.” He did not elaborate.
The under-construction line would allow for a sharp increase in exports of Armenian electricity to Iran. That electricity is generated by Iranian natural gas delivered to Armenian thermal power plants.
According to a separate statement issued by the Armenian government on Monday, Abrahamian said the two governments should give “new impetus” to joint economic projects of “strategic significance.”