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    President visits Iran’s only Christian & best neighbor

    A joint statement by Ahmadi-nejad and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, said the two politically isolated countries planned to step up cooperation.  The pair signed a batch of agreements meant to foster closer ties.

    “The presidents expressed their determination to develop a friendly and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship,” said the statement issued by Sarkisian’s office.

    Ex-Soviet Armenia has always nurtured ties with Iran because it suffers persistent political disputes with two of its other neighbors, Turkey and Azer-baijan, which have led to an economic blockade and closed borders.  Most of Armenia’s trade moves through Iran, making good ties essential.

    The two states have found further common ground because Iran also has a tense relationship with Armenia’s enemy, Azer-baijan; the two fought a war in the 1990s over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but lodged inside Azerbaijan.

    Azerbaijanis seethe with anger at Iran’s failure to help then regain Nagorno-Karabakh.  Many believe Tehran is quite happy to have Armenia occupying the area because Armenia is willing to back Iran even when Azerbaijan does not.

    Several years ago, an American reporter sitting for hours at the border where trucks from Armenia brought goods into Nagorno-Karabakh said almost all the trucks had Iranian license plates.

    Tehran’s relationship with Baku is complicated by its huge ethnic Azerbaijani minority and Azerbaijan’s close diplomatic and economic links with the United States.

    The irony is that Iran has difficult if not testy relations with the bulk of its 12 Muslim neighbors, but smooth sailing with its solitary Christian neighbor.

    Sergey Minasian, an analyst at the Caucasus Media Institute, said, “For Armenia, which is under blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey, Iran is a way out to the world. And for Iran, Armenia is a country through which it’s possible to go out to the West.”

    The joint statement said six agreements were signed during Ahmadi-nejad’s visit including an energy cooperation deal and a memorandum about Iranian development assistance to Armenia.

    A timetable was also agreed on for the joint construction of a hydroelectric power station on the Aras River, which forms their mutual border.

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