Kocharian Meets With OSCE Leaders

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian–who is on official visit in Austria–met with the OSCE Minsk group co-chairmen on February 27. During a conference after the meeting–the co-chairmen did not disclose the details of their new ideas concerning the Karabakh conflict’s settlement that is planned to be presented to the sides of the conflict.

Answering the question if these new ideas were discussed with the Armenian president–American co-chairman Rudolf Perina only said that the meeting was beneficial and the French co-chairman Philip de Suremein added that the most important thing is that both presidents support the efforts of OSCE Minsk group co-chairmen. They particularly stated that the negotiations were confidential and they have promised the Armenian and Azeri presidents not to disclose the details. "We actively work and try to find the solution for the conflict. We hope to find it as soon as possible," said Rudolf Perrina.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said that the co-chairmen must officially announce their suggestions. He also informed that he is aware only of the results of negotiations with Armenian side but discussions should also be held with Azerbaijan. He suggested to wait for the visit of co-chairmen to the region.

Within the framework of his official visit to Austria–Armenian President Robert Kocharian also held a private meeting with Austrian President Tovmas Klestil. During the meeting issues concerning bilateral relations were discussed.

The interlocutors also referred to the situation in South Caucasus. Kocharian presented the last developmen’s of the Karabakh conflict settlement process and Armenia’s position to his Austrian counterpart.

The presidents also discussed the perspective of the European Union’s role in the activation in the processes of conflict settlement in the Caucasian region.

They also touched upon the issues concerning the fight against international terrorism. During the meeting Armenian president asked for the support of Austria–as a member of European Union–for Armenia’s integration into European economic structures and Austrian president said that his country is ready to provide such support to Armenia.

After the meeting a joint press conference was held during which President Klestil particularly said that the South Caucasus is of a great strategic importance for Europe as this region itself is a part of Europe.

From this point and from the point of establishing long-lasting peace in the region–great importance was attached to the settlement of Karabakh conflict. The Austrian president also stated the importance of Russia’s and Iran’s role in the process of Karabakh conflicts settlement.

In the presence of the two presidents–an interstate agreement on elimination of double taxation of profits and property between Armenia and Austria and aerial communication between the two governmen’s was signed.

In the Austrian Economic Chamber–President Kocharian met with the representatives of Austrian business circles. During the meeting he delivered a speech–presenting business possibilities in Armenia.

Defense ministry spokesman Mirian Kiknadze said US military experts could start training Georgian commandos soon.

"It is possible that a group of experts may arrive to train our rapid reaction force–which is guarding strategic sites in Georgia–particularly oil pipelines," he said.

Kiknadze said he was unaware of any other US forces arriving in Georgia. A handful of military advisers has been teaching pilots and technicians how to fly and service 10 US Huey utility helicopters given to Tbilisi.

"That is our position and Washington is well aware of it," Ivanov said in televised remarks–suggesting Moscow had tried–but failed–to talk Washington out of its planned move.

US officials said on Tuesday in Washington they were dispatching crack military forces to Georgia–a mountainous country which shares a long land border with Russia–to help train troops there as part of its anti-terrorism campaign.

US officials said the American forces would not be involved in fighting Muslim guerrillas.

But there was immediate speculation they would help Georgian troops to root out Islamic guerrillas said to be entrenched with Chechen separatist rebels in the lawless Pankisi Gorge.

There was no immediate comment from President Vladimir Putin who–until now–has given US President George W. Bush full support in the anti-terror drive following the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks.

But the quick reaction from his foreign minister indicated the Kremlin was not prepared to accord its former Cold War foe the same laissez-passer in Georgia–a direct neighbor–as it did in former Soviet Central Asia.

Ivanov–for whom the US plan represents a personal policy defeat–did not spell out why Russia felt the US presence would make the security situation in Georgia worse.

He balanced his commen’s by saying that the US decision vindicated Russia’s charges that Georgia had become a hotbed of terrorism – a reference to the Chechen separatist rebels.

Putin–risking unpopularity among his military hawks–stepped aside to allow US troops to use air bases and facilities in Uzbekistan–Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan–also regarded as strategically important for Moscow–for their operations in Afghanistan late last year.

But analysts said the historical and emotional bonds Russia has for the Transcaucasus–which for more than 200 years has been a stamping ground for Russian troops–played a big part.

Coming after more than eight years of conflict in Chechnya–next door to Georgia–the prospect of US forces moving into Georgia represents a crushing diplomatic failure for Russia.

The sudden fall-out with Washington comes at an awkward time for Putin who is to host Bush at a summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in late May.

Since the September 11 attacks–when he was the first foreign leader to send his condolences to Bush and allied Russia with the anti-terror coalition–Putin has fought hard to smooth out problems with the United States. He has–until now–enjoyed a warm-spirited relationship with the US leader.

If the US operation–reported on Tuesday from Washington by US officials–takes place it will be the first time US forces have been stationed in an ex-Soviet country directly bordering Russia.

Russia’s fractious relations with its small southern neighbor–led by President Eduard Shevardnadze–have been going from bad to worse since independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Only last week–Russia’s chief of the general staff General Anatoly Kvashnin made another call to Georgia for joint operations to clear out al Qaeda rebels in the lawless Pankisi Gorge without American help.

As Russian airwaves continued with saturated coverage of the US planned move–Ivanov repeated the Russian call.

Other officials–some of them close to Putin himself–attempted to put a brave face on developmen’s.

A close Putin associate–speaking before Ivanov–said the presence of US military advisers in Georgia would not contradict international norms or harm Russian interests.

"It is the sovereign right of Georgia to take whatever decisions it wants on its territory," Sergei Mironov–speaker of the Federation Council upper house of parliament–said.

President Kocharian also met with Austrian Prime-Minister Wolfgang Schussel–and Chairman of National Council Heinz Vischer. The president also laid a wreath on monument to Franz Werfel in Schillerplatz.

Kocharian also met with members of the local Armenian community in Vienna on February 26.

There are 3,000 Armenia’s living in Austria–who come mainly from Turkey–Iran and Lebanon. They have formed a well-organized community with a church and a Sunday school. The spiritual leader of Armenia’s in Central Europe Archbishop Mesrop Grigorian–at the meeting with President Kocharian–said that the local Armenian community loves Armenia.

Speaking to the Armenian community in Vienna–Kocharian discussed the goals of his visits to Slovakia and Austria and said the Armenia is giving a special importance to development of its relations with Europe.

"We are trying to make our relations with the European Union more practical–to develop them–as they are very important for Armenia’s further advancement in all areas," he said.

Citing the nine-percent economic growth of last year–Kocharian said Armenia would see more improved social conditions given the achieved level continues into the several years to come. This–according to him–will help resolve one of the most painful problems of Armenia–the ongoing emigration.

Kocharian also endorsed the recently announced results of 2002 population’s general census–which concluded that Armenia’s overall population was slightly more than 3 million.

"The census was conducted in conformity with international standards and with the support and supervision of international organizations," he said and added–"of course many of these 3 million are outside Armenia–but they work abroad and by this continue keeping their families in Armenia."

Kocharian also said Armenia was expecting Diaspora Armenia’s’ investmen’s in Armenian economy.

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