Armenia Forging Closer Links with Europe And NATO

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenia is stepping up its efforts to forge closer links with European and Euro-Atlantic structures–President Robert Kocharian told the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) special representative to the South Caucasus and Central Asia–Robert Simmons.

In a meeting with Simmons–Kocharian said he has set up an inter-agency commission charged with coordinating his administration’s efforts at European integration.

"Our objective is to not only keep the planned work on track but to move forward at a bit higher tempo and implement joint programs in full," he said.

Kocharian referred to Armenia’s involvement in the European Union’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) program–which entitles it to a privileged relationship with the club–and the implementation of its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO.

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said during a separate meeting with Simmons on Monday that closer ties with NATO are "one of the important components of Armenia’s multi-layered security system." Yerevan therefore stands for an "expansion of the political dialogue" with the US-led alliance–he added.

Simmons praised this policy as he wrapped up his two-day visit to the Armenian capital. "Armenia wants to build a stronger partnership with NATO," he told a news conference. "We are happy with the level of our relationship."

The IPAP–which was launched last December–aims to bring Armenia closer to NATO by envisaging–among other things–a reform of its military that would boost its interoperability with the armed forces of NATO member states.

Simmons approved of the pace at which Armenia is implementing the IPAP program and noted that significant progress has been made–particularly in the defense sphere and consolidation of democracy in Armenia.

Yerevan undertook a project to develop and publicize a "defense doctrine" and a broader "national security strategy" in the coming years. A separate inter-ministerial commission headed by Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian is already working on both documen’s.

Another stated aim of the IPAP is a democratization of Armenia’s political system–the strengthening of its judiciary system–and a fight against corruption. Statemen’s released by Kocharian’s and Markarian’s offices–quoted Simmons as stressing the need for "strengthening democracy."

Kocharian and other Armenian leaders have repeatedly stated that the IPAP is not a prelude to an Armenian bid to join the alliance.

"NATO is not forcing Armenia to join the alliance or cut ties with other organizations or states," Simmons said.

He said that NATO appreciates Armenia’s involvement in peacekeeping missions and hopes to boost the cooperation in this sphere in future.

During his meetings–Simmons also discussed Armenian-Turkish relations with the Armenian officials.

Simmons said that being a NATO member country–Turkey has approved of Armenia’s IPAP with NATO. He said he hoped that cooperation within the frameworks of the IPAP will promote improved relations between the two countries.

Simmons also commented on the Karabagh conflict–saying that NATO is not directly involved in the process of the conflict regulation–but hopes that the negotiating sides will reach mutually acceptable agreement.

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