NATO Secretary General Robertson in Yerevan

YEREVAN (Armenpress–Reuters)–NATO Secretary General George Robertson arrived in Yerevan–on January 15–to discuss security issues and bilateral ties with Armenian leaders. He said that stability in the turbulent Caucasus region was important for the security of the alliance–and called for cooperation between NATO and ex-Soviet republics.

Upon his arrival at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport–Robertson stressed that there would be no discussions during his visit–about the membership of any South Caucasus countries to NATO. Robertson stated that the aim of the visit was to discuss issues regarding bilateral cooperation in the framework of the Partnership for Peace Program–which gives an opportunity to discuss regional issues and contributes to the establishment of stability in the region. The Partnership for Peace Program was devised to draw former Communist states into closer cooperation with the Atlantic alliance

Robertson held talks with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian late on Monday before meeting President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serge Sargssian the following day. Robertson also met with the Catholicos Karekin II–and co-chairs of the Armenian Atlantic Association Armen Darbinian and Nikolay Hovhannessian.

During his meeting with President Kocharian–Robertson was assured Armenia would increase cooperation with NATO–but was not considering entry talks at the time. He cautioned against the appearance of "new military components"– a veiled reference to possible future NATO bases in neighboring Georgia or Azerbaijan–which have been more enthusiastic about joining the alliance.

Kocharian said that care was required to avoid a new arms race in the tinderbox Caucasus region.

Catholicos Karekin II–in his meeting with the Secretary General–welcomed the peacemaking efforts of NATO–noting that Armenia–being involved in that process–is extending from year to year its activities in that field. He mentioned that the Armenian people have always supported peace. Robertson attached importance to the role of Armenia in maintaining peace in the region. He highly appreciated Armenia’s contribution to world civilization–considering the 1,700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia a very important event. NATO will take part in the festivities dedicated to the 1700th anniversary–and an exhibition will be organized at NATO’s building.

While in Armenia–Robertson lectured at Yerevan State University. "We believe that security is possible–if within Europe and its periphery–there is a stability and commitment to solve problems together. The more secure our neighbors are the more secure we are," he said. "Only cooperation–both regional and international–offers the possibility to create the kind of a long-term security and stability any nation seeks,” he continued. Robertson also pointed out that the settlement of the Karabakh conflict will strengthen stability in the region and normalize Armenian-Turkish relations.

It should be noted that this is the second visit of a NATO secretary general to Armenia. The first one was made in 1998 by the previous NATO secretary general–Javier Solana.

Robertson visited neighboring Azerbaijan on Tuesday where he met with President Haydar Aliyev–as well as the country’s prime minister–foreign minister and defense minister. Robertson said NATO had no direct role in tackling the conflict–but backed efforts led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in mediating.

He welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to intercede–made during a visit this month to Baku–despite Moscow’s traditionally warmer relations with Armenia. He said he noted no antagonism in any of the former Soviet republics he had visited in the Caucasus or Central Asia to renewed Russian interest in the regions’ affairs.

Robertson was to pursue talks with senior Azeri officials today before proceeding to Turkmen’stan. He has announced plans to visit Russia next month.

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