Darbinian set to Visit Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (Reuters)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian said Wednesday he was likely to send prime minister Armen Darbinian to Azerbaijan next month–opening the way for a breakthrough top-level visit to Armenia’s long-time enemy.

Kocharian told reporters he had decided not to accept a personal invitation by Azeri President Haydar Aliyev to attend a regional conference in Baku on September 7-8 but that he would probably send Darbinian in his place.

"It was decided who will go," Kocharian said. "this will not be me. It is most likely that Armen Darbinian will take part."

Armenia and Azerbaijan have no diplomatic ties–trade or communications links and no high-ranking official from either country has visited the other.

Aliyev invited Kocharian to attend the summit of TRACECA–an EU-funded project which aims to forge a new Silk Road from Europe to Asia through the Caucasus and Central Asia.

A top Kocharian adviser earlier said the trip was a security risk because emerging Caspian oil power Azerbaijan–with whom Armenia has essentially been in a state of war for a decade–could not be trusted to ensure his safety.

"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.

"We haven’t discussed the issue of my security," he said. "Security had nothing to do with deciding whether I go or not."

Kocharian declined to specify his reasons for turning down the invitation. But he said security concerns played no role in the refusal.

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic president Arkady Ghoukasian commented evasively on Aliyev’s invitation. Last weekend Ghoukasian welcomed direct contacts between Azerbaijan and Armenia–but added that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should not be discussed without Stepanakert’s participation.

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