Foreign Minister Oskanian Meets with Powell Saakashvili in Tbilisi

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Tbilisi on Sunday–on the sidelines of the official inauguration of Georgia’s new president Mikhail Saakashvili. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said they spoke about "the possibility of achieving concrete results" in the long-running Karabagh peace talks mediated by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The United States co-heads the group together with France and Russia.

"Vartan Oskanian and Colin Powell addressed the status of the Karabagh conflict following the meeting in Geneva late last year between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan–as well as exchanged thoughts about ways of resolving the problem," the statement said. Powell voiced his support–according to the statement–for further direct talks between President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart–Ilham Aliyev. Oskanian last week rejected Aliyev’s calls for a new Minsk Group plan that would restore Azerbaijani rule in Karabagh.

The strained relations between Armenia and Turkey also figured prominently at the Tbilisi meeting. "Both sides found positive the ongoing Armenian-Turkish dialogue and the importance of US role in turning it into practical results," Oskanian’s office said.

Also on the agenda of the meeting–according to the Foreign Ministry–was Armenia’s cooperation with the US-led fight against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Powell found Armenia’s role in the effort "positive," the statement said.

Oskanian is said to have assured Powell that his country remains committed to "actively participating in reconstruction programs in Iraq." But there was no word about Yerevan’s stated intention to join the US-led occupation force in Iraq with a small unit of military doctors and demining specialists to Iraq. US-Armenian negotiations on modalities of the operation have been going on for months.

Powell and Oskanian met at a hotel in the Georgian capital after attending Saakashvili’s oath-taking ceremony along with other foreign dignitaries–including Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Oskanian’s one-day visit to Tbilisi also involved separate meetings with Saakashvili and Georgia’s parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze. Oskanian handed Saakashvili a congratulatory letter from Kocharian inviting him to pay an official visit to Armenia. The Georgian president reaffirmed his pledge to give "a new impetus" to ties between the two neighboring countries–according to Oskanian’s press service.

"I think Saakashvili has a genuine desire to enhance relations with Armenia. He indicated that Armenian-Georgian relations are not on an appropriate level–especially economic ties. Armenia agrees–and is prepared to expand its relations with Georgia," said Oskanian.

Oskanian stressed that unavoidable problems between the two countries in the past have never developed into serious ones–with both sides readily having sought solutions. He added–however–that despite political will to maintain high-level bilateral relations–clashing economic interests always exist–but that "the prevailing factor is to keep peace in the region."

"I saw a candid desire in Saakashvili to improve the plight of Georgian Armenia’s," added Oskanian–noting though the plight of Armenia’s in Georgia’s Javakheti province–was not specifically addressed.

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