Armenia ‘Ideal Partner’ for Georgia Says Saakashvili

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili praised Armenia and its President Robert Kocharian on Friday during an official visit to Yerevan.

Meeting for the first time–the two leaders stressed the high level of relations between their nations–vowing to strengthen friendly bilateral ties–promote regional cooperation–and continue to seek integration into European structures.

Saakashvili described Armenia as an ideal partner–saying that his country has a lot to learn from its neighbor’s nation-building experience.

"The president of Armenia left an extremely positive impression on me," Saakashvili told a joint news conference after the talks. "I think that he is a very energetic and able leader who is well aware of the region’s problems and international relations in general. And I think Armenia is lucky to have such a president."

"I remember telling my ministers that there are many things they can learn from Armenia," the 36-year-old leader said–mentioning its armed forces in the first instance.

"We are going to develop–get stronger–and promote peace and stability. In this sense–we have an excellent–an ideal partner in Yerevan."

Kocharian was more reserved in his commen’s. "I am happy with the sincere character of today’s exchange of opinions," he said–adding that Armenian-Georgian summits will now be more frequent than in the past.

Kocharian also noted an "amazing convergence" of the two governmen’s’ positions on the situation in Javakhk–an economically strapped Armenian-majority region in southern Georgia which is home to a Russian military base. He said they both believe that the only way to ease simmering tensions in the impoverished region is to address its socioeconomic problems and promote its residents’ "deep integration" into Georgian society.

The joint declaration implies that Armenia will not seek a status of autonomy for Javakhk demanded last month by a junior member of its governing coalition–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. "The Parties reiterated once again their commitment to the principle of non-interference with each other’s internal affairs–mutual respect for self-rule–territorial integrity and inviolability of borders," it reads. In a joint declaration issued by them–Yerevan again disavowed recent calls for self-rule in Georgia’s Armenian-populated areas.

Saakashvili was quick to publicly welcome Kocharian’s "principled stance" on what he stressed is his country’s internal affair.

Touching on the uneasy Russian-Georgian relationship–Saakashvili suggested that Yerevan–which maintains close ties with Moscow–might "greatly assist" in their improvement. Tbilisi–for its part–is ready to help defuse tensions between Armenia and its regional arch-foes: Azerbaijan and Turkey–he said .

Economic issues were also high on the agenda of the talks–with the two presidents agreeing to step up activities of a Georgian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. It will now be co-chaired by Prime Minister Andranig Markarian and Georgian State Minister Zurab Zhvania.

Saakashvili effectively reaffirmed his pledge to lower transit fees levied from goods imported to and exported from Armenia through Georgian railway and Black Sea ports. The latter handle 90 percent of Armenia’s external trade. The Georgian tariffs for Azerbaijani cargoes have until now been considerably lower.

"Armenia must have the most favorable regional tariffs–no less favorable that any of our neighbors has," Saakashvili declared.

But it was not clear if any bilateral agreemen’s to that effect will be signed by the two governmen’s soon.

Later in the day Saakashvili visited the genocide memorial on Yerevan’s Dzitdzernagapert Hill and met with leaders of the Armenian parliament and its pro-Kocharian majority.

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