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Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Europe: A new transport corridor to be discussed in Sofia

Representatives of Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece and Iran are to meet in Sofia, Bulgaria, on July 12-13, with a view to discuss a transport corridor that is supposed to connect the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea and to help Iran to export its goods to Europe. The idea to build a transport corridor between Iran and Armenia is not new. Initially, the sides considered building a railroad to Georgia and further to Abkhazia and Russia. But this project cannot be realized as the Armenian section will cost as much as $3.5 billion, while Abkhazia and Georgia are unable to come to terms. Thus, the only way for Armenia to be a transit country for Iran is to build a highway.

The initial project to build a road from Meghri via Vayots Dzor and Sevan to the Georgian port of Poti has now been replaced with the Meghri-Vayots Dzor-Yeraskh highway. From Yeraskh Iranian goods will be carried to Poti by train. This route is shorter and faster. And, according to Armenia’s Transport and Communication Minister Gagik Beglaryan, it is cheaper than any other route involving Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Now the sides are considering the technical aspects of this project and in Sofia they will try to solve the political problems it implies. It is Iran’s wish to bypass Turkey. And Armenia is the best alternative here as, according to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, unlike Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia has no political problems with Iran.

And this is despite the fact that Armenia does not yet have any serious infrastructure for transporting Iranian cargoes. In contrast, the Europe-the Caucasus-Asia corridor running via Azerbaijan can carry as much as 25 million tons of cargo a year. In this light, the question is who is paying for such a serious transportation artery in Armenia, a country having no money for large projects. Experts say that the new infrastructure will cost as much as $1 billion. The Eurasian Development Bank will lend $150 million, the European Investment Bank $60 million and the Asian Development Bank over $500 million. The greater part of the sum is available. So, the project has bright prospects. And the decision of Bulgaria and Greece to join it has made them even brighter.

Azerbaijan’s hysteric response has proved this fact. Spokesman of the Azerbaijan Railways Nadir Azmamedov said that Iran and Armenia will not be able to keep Azerbaijan away from regional transport projects. “Over the last years, Azerbaijan has carried out so many different projects that no other projects can compete with it,” Azmamedov said. Recently, Iranian MP, former governor of Ardabil Mansour Haghighatpour said that Iran may choose Armenia as a transit country instead of Azerbaijan. He said this in response to the noise made in the Azerbaijani parliament over Iran’s decision to liberalize its visa regime with Armenia. Quite a surprising thing to hear from one of the best friends of Azerbaijan: during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Haghighatpour was the military advisor of Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev.

Azmamedov’s statement was published by Haqqin.az. The same website published an article analyzing the project. And even though its authors called it unpromising, they admitted that Iran and some other countries wanted it to be carried out.

So, the forthcoming meeting in Sofia is crucial for each of the sides as well as for Turkey and Azerbaijan. In case of success, this project will turn Armenia and Georgia into important transit territories and will boost their economies. For Armenia, it also means the end of the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade. For Iran, it is one more route to Europe and an alternative to Turkey. For Bulgaria and Greece, it is a source of additional benefits. For Azerbaijan and Turkey, it is a serious irritant as Iran is no longer willing to be dependent on unfriendly neighbors. So, this project has both political and economic prerequisites. All it needs now is political will.

Anton Yevstratov, specially for EADaily

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23.09.2016

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