Caucasus Countries Discuss ‘Frozen Conflicts ‘ Closer Ties With EU

BRUSSELS (RFE/RL)–The foreign ministers of Armenia–Azerbaijan–and Georgia met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss EU-South Caucasus relations with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and other officials.

After the meetings–Solana displayed unusual willingness to explore ways in which the EU could get more involved in resolving the "frozen conflicts" that have impeded the development of the South Caucasus. The ministers also discussed progress in ongoing talks on EU neighborhood "action plans" that outline the bloc’s support for the three countries over the coming years.

"There are some [conflicts] that are frozen–some others that are less frozen. But in any case–we would like very much–based on the type of conflict? to offer help from the European Union," Solana said–standing alongside the region’s three foreign ministers.

Solana was particularly optimistic about Karabagh–stressing a "solution may begin to move" as early as next year. He also praised recent "progress" between Georgia and separatist South Ossetia.

Solana did not elaborate about what shape such greater EU involvement might take. He stressed that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) remains the main mediator in the conflicts–but said if the EU "is asked to get more involved–we will."

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian indicated Armenia prefers the OSCE’s Minsk Group continue mediating. He said EU offers are appreciated–but said Armenia is not looking for "direct EU involvement in conflict resolution," but in the post-conflict stage. "We believe–as we continue to make progress in our talks–EU’s involvement will become necessary for the post-conflict rehabilitation part of this process," he said.

Oskanian said that if there is a breakthrough in the Karabagh conflict next year–EU aid will be crucial for the quick development of the areas affected by the conflict.

Solana said "important meetings" taking place in the coming days will determine the nature and extent of EU involvement.

The Minsk Group co-chairs to the region are due to meet with Armenian President Robert Kocharian on Thursday. The mediators will then proceed to Baku. According to Oskanian–they will discuss "some of the elemen’s of the content of the talks," and will try to agree on a venue and time for the next meeting between Armenian and Azeri presidents. The meeting could take place as early as January.

All three ministers said their countries want closer ties with the EU–but none mentioned ambitions to join the bloc. The three countries’ "action plans" outlining EU support over the next five years are being delayed by Cyprus–which objects to commercial air links between Azerbaijan and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

As a result–Tuesday’s meetings were also formally downgraded to "informal" talks from the intended Cooperation Council format.

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