Conference Council of Europe Official Says Armenia’s Membership Likely Next Year

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A senior official from the Council of Europe visiting Yerevan said on Monday Armenia will most probably become a full member of the respected human rights organization next year but gave no specific dates.

"I would be very surprised if Armenia doesn’t join [the organization] some time next year," Lord Russell Johnston–the president of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly–told reporters today. He said "most of the obstacles [to doing so] have been overcome."

Accession to the 41-member Council of Europe has been one of the main declared goals of Armenian foreign policy. However–Yerevan’s efforts have been hampered by the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh and what European officials see as inadequate political reform.

Johnston welcomed a "great change" over the last two years in Yerevan’s implementation of judicial reforms and handling of the elections. The Council of Europe described the last parliamentary elections held in May as an "important step towards achieving" its standards.

Johnston also said Armenia’s accession will not be affected by the Karabakh dispute and its membership bid is considered separately from Azerbaijan’s.

"I don’t think that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict affects timing of your accession," he said adding that Armenia and Azerbaijan are "not Siamese twins."

The countries have enjoyed a "special guest" status in Strasbourg since 1996. Georgia was the first South Caucasus state to become a full member last April.

However–when speaking to reporters at the Yerevan airport Friday–Johnston had sounded more ambiguous about Yerevan’s chances saying that the full membership is "unlikely" this year. Asked about the year 2000–he replied: "Who knows?"

Johnston–who arrived in Armenia last weekend–has met with President Robert Kocharian and other top officials and addressed the parliament during its opening session.

He is due in the Georgian capital Tbilisi Tuesaday for the opening of a human rights seminar organized by the Council of Europe for Armenian–Azeri and Georgian parliamentarians.

Johnston highly assessed the dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan–describing it as more effective than the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group. He said his tour of the region was mainly conditioned by the desire to promote this dialogue.

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