Iran and Armenia Are Disappointed with Russia: Manouchehr Mottaki's Unplanned Visit to Yerevan
[February 20, 2006]
"The visit by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Manouchehr Mottaki was neither a surprise nor was it planned," was the non-standard response we received from Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to our question last Friday during his joint press conference with European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Not only was Mottaki's visit a surprise but it, in a way, overshadowed the comments that followed the negotiations on the Karabakh settlement at the presidents' level that had taken place at the Chateau Rambouillet in France. Iran scholar Emma Begidjanyan explained that in the current situation surrounding Iran, Tehran is trying to conduct an active foreign policy. "Perhaps, the visit was not related to the Rambouillet negotiations, but was related to the Iranian nuclear problem. It is important to stress here that Tehran is disappointed with the Russian position on this issue; perhaps one might also connect it with that," she said.
After Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad assumed the post of president of the Islamic Republic, Tehran-European Union relations on one hand and Tehran-Washington relations on the other have been strained, and the Tehran-Moscow strategic partnership has shown signs of breaking up. Russia, to Iran's disappointment, voted in favor of transferring the Iranian nuclear file from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN Security Council. Moreover, France has, for the first time, accused Iran of implementing a "secret military" nuclear program, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared in the US Senate that Washington is considering applying economic sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo.
Political scientist Stepan Safaryan believes that Manouchehr Mottaki's visit is more related to Iran's security issues, which touch upon both political and economic developments. "I also mean the construction of an Iran-Europe gas pipeline. This pipeline might become one of the security guarantees for Iran, because if the pipleline is constructed Europe itself will have an interest in developing relations with Iran. I don't think that Mottaki's visit is greatly related to the Rambouillet meeting, although, as is well known, after the Key West negotiations, the then-American co-chairman of the Minsk Group, Carey Cavanaugh said that Iran should be kept informed of the details of the negotiations. In this case, too, any possible resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict certainly touches upon Iran's interests," Safaryan said.
On February 14, the Iranian foreign minister was received by his colleague, Vartan Oskanian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan, Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan, and President Robert Kocharyan. According to official information, the Iranian nuclear program was also discussed during these meetings, and the Iranian foreign minister reiterated his country's adherence to the principles of using nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes.
At the Oskanian-Mottaki joint press-conference, the Armenian foreign minister declared in an aggressive tone that "No one has the right to interfere in the construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline." When we reminded Oskanian about recent publications in the Russian press according to which Moscow had exerted pressure on Yerevan and Tehran to decrease the diameter of the gas pipeline from 1,200 millimeters to 711 milimeters, in order to prevent it from becoming a transit pipeline and from harming Russian gas interests, the foreign minister emphasized the the pipeline construction is being carried out on the basis of the Armenian-Iranian bilateral agreement, and "third countries cannot influence or exert pressure on us." In his turn, Mottaki noted that he fully shares his Armenian couterpart's view and added that the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline "is not aimed against any one."
Political scientist Stepan Safaryan says of recent developments in the region, "We are witnessing here subtle political technology, in which developments directly lead to Iran-Russia contradictions, if not serious controversy. The US has adopted a tough position toward Iran and is thickening the atmosphere of intimidation to shape an attitude toward Iran within the international arena which prompts Iran to do more daring deeds and steps, to turn to bolder and more quickly realizable programs that will enhance its security, and will make Europe self-interested in its security issues as well. Russia opposes these plans since Iran's calculations deliver a blow to its economic interests, especially."
In Safaryan's view, "Oskanian's statement can be seen as a step to gain favor in the West, by which it is being pronounced that Armenia does not, after all, have an unequivocally Russian orientation. As for the planned Iran-Europe gas pipeline construction and the obstacles in its way, we cannot fail to point out the American obstacle as equal to the Russian obstacle."
Our sources within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia note that official Yerevan is disappointed first of all with recent steps by Moscow, in which, in fact, the Russian "gas attack" (the decision to increase the price for the gas exported to CIS countries) was also aimed at it's strategic partner, Armenia. And this when, for example, the same Russia sells gas to Turkey at a price of just $75 for 1,000 cubic meters.
Emma Begidjanyan believes that Tehran, not to mention Yerevan, has always submitted to the wishes of Russia regarding the Iran-Armenia pipeline. "Since the pipepline is already in the process of construction, a state official could not say that yes, there were pressures from Russia and the US. The fact that in the course of 15 years of Armenian independence, the gas pipeline is being constructed only now shows that pressure was exerted. When the variant of surrendering Meghri to Azerbaijan was put into circulation, Iran started to get active. At that time, Serzh Sarkisyan visited Tehran and announced that the gas pipeline construction would start in February of 2002, but when the Meghri issue was taken off the agenda, Iran again relaxed its position and so the pipeline construction was delayed," Begidjanyan explained.
Yerevan-Tehran relations are at a high level, and with every passing day the ties between the two countries deepen, especially in the sphere of energy and energy resources. US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans has dropped hints that the fact of the deepening Armenian-Iranian energy cooperation does not hinder the expansion of Armenian-US relations. " The United States is very sympathetic to Armenia's energy situation and to Armenia's efforts to diversify sources of energy. Up to now, so far as we can tell, the American legislation has not been triggered by anything that Armenia has done," the Ambassador said, speaking to journalists on February 3.
The EU is not against the construction of an Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, either. "The EU is equally concerned with the impoverished region's economic development and diversification of its sources of energy that are now largely confined to Russia. The EU supports Armenia's decision to build a gas pipeline from neighboring Iran," European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner stressed last Friday in Yerevan. During their joint press-conference, Oskanian and Ferrero-Waldner noted that they had discussed, among other things, the situation around Iran as well. The Armenian minister expressed hope that the problem would be solved by diplomatic means, and the commissioner suggested that "Iran will use the still existing opportunities to restart the dialogue."
Some tough statements were made in Yerevan by Mr. Mottaki as well. Asked about Tehran's reaction to the assertions by the US secretary of state that the uproar and violence sorrounding the publication in the European press of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad have been incited by Iran and Syria to produce anti-Christian sentiments in the Islamic world, Mottaki called Condoleezza Rice "a liar who always lies."
The Iranian foreign minister stated in Yerevan that " the Armenian-Iranian relationship is a good example of mutual respect for different religions." Mottaki also stressed that Denmark must apologize to the Islamic world for the outrage and prosecute the authors of the cartoons. Mottaki insisted that the publication of the cartoons "is a planned action aimed at inciting a clash of civilizations."