Armenia to Decide on Azeri Summit Invitation

YEREVAN (Reuters–RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian will decide in the next few days whether to make what would be a groundbreaking visit to arch-foe Azerbaijan in September–his press service said Tuesday.

Azeri President Haydar Aliyev has invited Kocharian to Baku for a September 7-8 summit of TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia)–an EU-led project which aims to forge a new Silk Road from Europe to Asia through the Caucasus and Central Asia.

"Armenia will definitely participate in the forum–but on what level will be decided in the following days," the presidents press service said in a statement.

A top Kocharian advisor has described the trip as a security risk–suggesting that emerging Caspian oil power Azerbaijan–with which Armenia has been in a virtual state of war for a decade over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh–could not be trusted to ensure his security.

"My personal opinion is that the president should be careful because Azerbaijan is a country of surprises. This is a dangerous trip and I think it could be possible to find someone else to represent Armenia," Vahan Hovanessian told Reuters.

Asked whether he would be willing to represent the President–Hovanessian said he would do so if necessary.

A source in Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said that adequate precautions could be made for Kocharian’s visit and that he faced no danger.

"Since such an invitation has been made–all possible security considerations have been thought out – where he would live and so on–and there would be no problem in ensuring his safety," said the source.

He said that it would be naive to expect the visit to produce any political breakthrough in the conflict but that "it could positively change the atmosphere of talks."

Hasmik Petrosian–chief of the presidential press service–told RFE/RL that "Armenia will by all means participate in the Baku conference," adding that "the level of that participation will be clarified soon."

Kocharian’s spokeswoman’said Yerevan’s desire to take part in the conference reflects its intentions to play a "more active role in regional programs."

Despite numerous internationally mediated face-to-face meetings–the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have not paid visits to each other’s country since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted in 1988.

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