EU Urges Inclusion of Armenia in Turkey-Europe Railway

YEREVAN (PanArmenian)–The European Union does not want Armenian to be excluded from railway projects connecting Asia to Europe and urged that Armenia be included in all projects, national secretary of the Transport Corridor Europe, Caucasus, Asia or the New Silk Road initiative (TRACECA) Akif Mutafayev said Thursday. The TRACECA official said that it was Europe’s demand to create a railway from Turkey to Europe that includes Armenia. This is seen as an alternative to proposed controversial Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway project, which sidesteps Armenia. Both houses of the US Congress have adopted measures that prohibit US funding for the Baku-Kars project, because it is alienating Armenia in the process. In October of 2005, the European Commission voiced official opposition to the proposed Caucasus railroad bypass of Armenia. A formal statement by the Commission’s Directorate General for Transport and Energy noted that its construction was both unnecessary and inefficient in light of the existing railroad connecting Kars, Gumri, and Tbilisi. Mutafayev said, however, that a railway project through Armenia to Europe was contingent on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Earlier this week, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey reached an agreement on key issues concerning the railway route from Kars to Baku via Akhalkalak and Tbilisi, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. "In the course of trilateral talks held in Baku last weekend drafts of three important documen’s were considered: a framework agreement on the project; the Georgian side’s obligations to allot land for the construction of the railway road; and a credit agreement between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey," Azeri Transport Minister Ziya Mamedov was quoted as saying. Turkey has no objections and is ready to begin implementing the project on its territory at the beginning of 2007. "We are now working with the Georgian side to make sure it can start building the railway road on its territory in the same time period," Mamedov said. The new railway route is estimated at $422 million. It envisages the construction of a 105-kilometer road, including 29 kilometers in Georgia and 76 kilometers in Turkey, as well as the modernization of a 150-kilometer section of the Georgian railway road. The new road will be of interest also to Kazakhstan and China, which are seeking to deliver their cargos to Europe by the shortest route. Earlier this month, the US Senate approved legislation protecting US taxpayers from funding an unnecessary and costly proposed railroad between Turkey and Georgia that would, if built, circumvent Armenia. The Senate, during its final day in session before the November 7 mid-term elections, passed the measure by unanimous consent as part of its reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. On September 21 the Senate Banking Committee, during its consideration of the Export-Import bill, had agreed to add the railway language, offered initially as an amendment by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), to the larger measure. The Menendez Amendment was ultimately accepted as a "manager’s amendment" by Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Democrat Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and unanimously approved by the panel. The US House, this July, adopted the railway language as part of its version of the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Bill, following a successful effort within the Financial Services Committee, spearheaded by Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA), to amend this text to the EXIM measure. Both versions are based on the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2006 introduced in the Senate by Rick Santorum (R-PA) and in the House by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), the Co-Chairman of the Armenian Caucus. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Ex-Im Bank’s mission is to assist in financing the export of US goods and services to international markets.

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