Italy Says Armenia’s Membership in Council of Europe Imminent

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia has good chances to become a full member of the Council of Europe in the very near future–a senior Italian official said on Saturday.

"I am sure that after the [May parliamentary] elections you will be part of the Council of Europe," Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Valentino Martinelli told reporters in Yerevan during a one-day official visit. He arrived in Armenia on the last leg of a tour of the three Transcaucasian states.

He did not specify if Armenia’s membership in the influential organization is contingent on the conduct of the polls. Previous elections in Armenia have been marred with major irregularities and criticized by Western-led monitoring missions. Some senior officials in the CE have already made it clear that Yerevan must ensure that the elections are free and fair.

Another obstacle to Armenia’s membership in the organization is its unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Martinelli said the decade-long conflict should not hinder Armenia’s integration into European structures. "I don’t think the Karabakh conflict should be a problem at all. That’s a problem of Armenia and Azerbaijan–and I don’t think it should have anything to do with the Council of Europe. So it’s not a question of [first] resolving the conflict and then going into the Council," the Italian diplomat said.

"Little by little–you have to come into the European world as well. You are really a European [nation]–even though you are at the bottom line." Georgia was the first Transcaucasian state to effectively secure a full membership in the Council last January.

Armenia and Azerbaijan currently enjoy the status of a "special guest" in the organization.

Martinelli was speaking after meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. Development of Armenian-Italian relations as well as the current state of the Karabakh peace process topped the talks’ agenda–official sources said.

According to the press service of the Armenian foreign ministry–the two sides also discussed the "Armenian-Russian and Armenian-Turkish relations." Kocharian’s press office said also on agenda were details of a "visit to Armenia next July by Pope John Paul II.

"This was the first time official Yerevan named the approximate date of the pontiff’s planned first-ever visit to Armenia. A formal invitation to the pope was extended by Kocharian late last month during a visit to Vatican.

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