Commission Unable to Clear up Issue of Georgian Debt to Armenia

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE-RL)–Economic issues topped Armenian Prime Minister Antranik Markarian’s talks in Tbilisi–where he presided over the Armenian-Georgian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation–along with Georgian counterpart Zurab Zhvania.

Though both men called for a sharp increase in the volume of commercial exchange between the two neighboring states–Markarian revealed that the commission was unable to come to an agreement on the repayment of Georgia’s debts to Armenia–but agreed to form working groups to review the matter within one month.

Georgia’s debt to Armenia equals 19.5 million dollars; its energy debt totals 4.3 million dollars. Markarian told reporters in Yerevan–that the two countries agreed to develop–within one to two months–a debt repayment scheme–that does not exclude repayment in the form of goods.

The commission was also unable to agree on setting lower fees for Armenian railways operating in Georgia–and fees charged for transporting cargo.

Markarian announced–however–that a major shift in Tbilisi’s policy bodes well for the reopening of strategic railways that connect Armenia with the outside world.

He particularly noted a "huge softening" of Georgia’s conditions for the resumption of rail communication with Russia running through the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. The Abkhaz section of the railway has been closed since the outbreak of an armed conflict in 1992 that resulted in the Black Sea region’s de facto independence from the Tbilisi government.

"There has been a softening of the Georgian approach to the issue," Markarian told reporters in Yerevan on his return from the Georgian capital where he also met with President Mikhail Saakashvili.

"Whereas in the past Georgia linked the reopening of the railway to the status of Abkhazia–it is now talking about security and the system of governance in the Gali district [of Abkhazia] mainly populated by Georgians," he said.

The Georgians–Markarian added–realize that a full resolution of the Abkhaz conflict is "very difficult" under the existing circumstances. "They themselves do not know how they can resolve it," he said.

According to Markarian–Georgia is also interested in the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border because it would be able to use the presently idle rail link between the towns of Gyumri in Armenia and Kars in Turkey. He said Saakashvili promised to raise the issue during talks with Turkish leaders next month.

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