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Armenia: Greek, Iranian Officials Aim To Boost Economic Cooperation

Yerevan, 7 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign ministers of Iran and Greece arrived in Yerevan today for the annual session of the governing body of an economic grouping comprising the three countries. Their talks are aimed at boosting tripartite cooperation in a range of economic areas.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian says the consultations with his Iranian and Greek counterparts will mark an important stage in the development of their trilateral ties.

Armenia, Greece and Iran share traditionally strained relations with neighboring Turkey. Some political analysts have suggested that the grouping was set up in December 1997 as a counterweight to Ankara. That claim has been repeatedly denied by officials of the three countries.

Speaking to reporters on his arrival in Yerevan, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi reiterated the three governments' position that the group's existence is "not directed against any other country." Kharrazi said economic projects envisaged by the three will also contribute to the economic development of all states in the region.

Armenian officials say the three ministers will sign a so-called "memorandum of mutual understanding" after their session tomorrow. According to Armenia's Oskanian, the document will deal with the implementation of joint projects in the energy sector, transport and trade.

Armenian diplomats have said that Greece is interested in the planned construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia, and is considering trying to attract the European Union's financial support for the $120 million project.

Greece is also reportedly working on a project to connect Iran to Europe with a fiber-optic trans-national cable that would run through both Georgia as well as Armenia. Greece's state-controlled firm OTE owns the bulk of Armenia's telecommunications monopoly ArmenTel.

Foreign Minister Oskanian says military cooperation is not on the agenda of the tripartite meetings. He said that Greece, as an EU member, could serve as a bridge linking Armenia and Iran to Europe. For their part, Oskanian added, Yerevan and Tehran could promote further the Greek presence in the Caucasus and Middle East.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou echoed Oskanian's remarks today, saying that Athens is ready to assist Armenia's integration into EU structures.

Later today, Papandreou and Kharrazi are due to hold separate meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian.