Presidents Discuss Economic and Political Cooperation; Weapons Scare at Local Music Hall

TBILISI (Combined Sources)–On Sunday–President Robert Kocharian ended a three-day official visit to Georgia–which he and his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili said will help the two neighboring nations strengthen their relations.

The two leaders held a series of talks that focused on bilateral trade–transport–and other economic issues.

The economic focus of the visit was underscored by an Armenian-Georgian economic forum that began its work in Tbilisi during the weekend. Saakashvili and Kocharian presided over its opening session. Twenty-nine businessmen accompanied Kocharian to the forum–and discussed the privatization of the Poti Port and the energy sector.

The situation in the Armenian-populated Javakhk region in southern Georgia was also on the agenda of the talks. The Armenian and Georgian leaders discussed economic development programs for the impoverished region–with Kocharian indicating that Armenia is ready to assist in rebuilding local roads leading to the Armenian border. Kocharian also held a separate meeting with leaders of the Armenian community in Tbilisi.

At a joint briefing to journalists–Kocharian stressed the need to reconstruct the railway through Abkhazia that would link Armenia with Russia. The Armenian president went on to say–however–that this issue could be resolved only by Georgia.

"More frequent railway movement is better for all of us. The absence of railway communications is neither favorable to Armenia’s or Georgians. I think that a pragmatic approach to this issue would be very useful–although I understand that it is a very difficult issue–and Georgia has to decide what to do," the Armenian president said.

Saakashvili chose not to comment on the issue–speaking instead of regional cooperation.

"The Baltic countries could push for this idea to take shape as part of the [EU] new neighbors policy. We are ready to cooperate with them," said Kocharian.

On Saturday–Kocharian met with Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania–who praised the Armenian president–saying–"I want to say that Kocharian always pays great attention to eliminate even small defects in relations with Georgia," Zhvania told reporters–and said the talks addressed Georgia’s import of electricity from Armenia.

Kocharian also met with Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze–and said afterwards that close cooperation between the parliamen’s is one of the main components of bilateral relations.

"We agreed to strengthen the relations between our parliamen’s–and–I will also invite the Speaker of the Armenian parliament to Georgia. We have cooperated in the past–and now we only need to refresh it," he told journalists in the parliament after the meeting.

Burjanadze welcomed the idea of bilateral cooperation between the two parliamen’s–saying that "this is in the interests of both countries and the region as a whole."

Kocharian also met with Georgian Patriarch Ilia II–and visited the Heroes Square where he laid a wreath on the memorial to soldiers who died fighting to preserve Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Later–Saakashvili and Kocharian expressed their condolence to former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze in connection with his wife’s death. They paid their respects by going to the presidential Krtsanisi residence late at night.

Afterwards–Kocharian and Saakashvili visited the Adjaria Music Hall–where a show in honor of the Armenian president was being held. The joyous atmosphere of the evening was marred when weapons were discovered in the building. Investigators have not yet determined if the weapons were linked to a possible dual assassination attempt.

The two presidents spent that night at the presidential residence in Likani–near Borjomi.

On the third and last day of the official visit–Kocharian met with the Armenian diaspora of Georgia–during which complaints about unemployment were the focus of talks.

Also on Sunday–Minister of Internal Affairs of Armenia Haik Harutunian–and Georgia’s Minister of Internal Affairs Irakli Okruashvili signed an agreement to create a joint board that will work to eradicate the trafficking of drugs and stolen cars. Their first session will be held on December 20.

"This board will have to meet once every two-three months in order to develop this idea," stated Okruashvili at the briefing–after the signing of the agreement.

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