After years of delay, Armenia and Iran will finally start building this August a major hydroelectric plant on a fast-flowing river marking their border, officials said on Monday.
Official Armenian and Iranian sources said an agreement to that effect was reached during Iranian Energy Minister Majid Namjou’s weekend visit to Yerevan.
Namjou met with President Serzh Sarkisian and Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian for talks reportedly focusing on Armenian-Iranian energy projects that have fallen behind schedule. Sarkisian’s press office quoted Namjou as saying that work on the hydroelectric plant will start “soon.”
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Lusine Harutiunian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that Namjou and Movsisian agreed to kick off the project’s implementation in August.
Citing unnamed Iranian government sources, the Tehran-based Press TV reported on Monday a more precise date for the project launch: August 22. It said the construction work will get underway simultaneously on both banks of the Arax river that separates Armenia and Iran.
The Armenian and Iranian governments agreed, in principle, to build the 140-megawatt facility about a decade ago and have since been working out practical modalities of the project estimated to cost $350 million.
Movsisian announced in July 2010 the impending start of its construction by Iranian firms. He said the Armenian government will pay for its 50 percent share in the project with future electricity supplies to the Islamic Republic. The minister said late last year that the power plant’s construction has still not begun because of “situations in Iran.”
Also having fallen behind schedule are long-standing plans by Yerevan and Tehran to build a third high-voltage transmission line connecting the two countries’ power grids and a pipeline to ship Iranian fuel to Armenia. Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Sarkisian pledged to speed up the implementation of all three projects when they met in Yerevan last December.
According to the Armenian presidential press office, Sarkisian and Namjou agreed that this will give a further “considerable” boost to Armenian-Iranian trade, which rose by 13.6 percent to $323.4 million last year. The Armenian leader was reported to describe Iran as his country’s “reliable neighbor and good friend.”
Namjou also conveyed to Sarkisian Ahmadinejad’s invitation to take part in a summit of the Non-Alignment Movement nations scheduled to place in Tehran in late August.