Kocharian, Chirac Meet; Discuss Karabakh, Preside Over Louvre Exhibit Opening

PARIS (Combined Sources)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac met Tuesday at the Elysee Palace and discussed a wide range of issues, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process. During the meeting the presidents confirmed that relations between Armenia and France were becoming stronger and expressed hope that the development of relations would continue and would expand in various realms, including energy and trade. In discussing the Karabakh conflict resolution process, Chirac briefed Kocharian on his recent meeting with Azeri president Ilham Aliyev. The French leader emphasized the importance of a peaceful resolution to the conflict, within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, which France co-chairs. Armenia expects the ongoing peace talks with Azerbaijan to result in a peace accord that will allow for international recognition of Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharian said in a newspaper interview published on Monday. "It is absurd to speak of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity because Nagorno-Karabakh won its independence during the collapse of the USSR through an impeccable legal procedure and has never been part of an independent Azerbaijan," he told the French daily Le Figaro. "The negotiations can only be aimed at fixing a delay for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence by means of a referendum." Kocharian was alluding to the underlying principle of international mediators’ current peace plan on Karabakh. It calls for the holding of a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh years after the people of Karabakh already voted for independence. In early December, 99 percent of Karabakh’s voters ratified a constitution during a referendum. Armenia is ready to establish diplomatic ties with Turkey without preconditions and create a joint government commission to discuss the Armenian Genocide. Kocharian used the Le Figaro interview to call on Ankara to accept his suggestion of an intergovernmental commission. "The normalization of bilateral relations is the responsibility of governmen’s, not historians," said Kocharian, who begins an official visit to France on Monday. "That is why we are ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without preconditions, create an intergovernmental commission and to discuss all issues, including the most sensitive," he added. In October, the lower house of the French parliament provoked Turkish ire by passing a bill making it a crime to deny Armenia’s suffered genocide in 1915, a vote Ankara said would damage ties between the two NATO allies. "That is why we are ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without preconditions, create an intergovernmental commission and to discuss all issues, including the most sensitive," he added. The recognition of the Armenian Genocide "is not only the Diaspora’s issues. The state must play a leading role since the Genocide recognition is a national security concern for Armenia," the president said, during a meeting with the French-Armenian community Monday. He added that as long as Turkey did not recognize the Genocide a national security threat existed for Armenia. Kocharian said that in his many meetings with world leaders, he had not found anyone who denied the fact of the Genocide. He said countries that have not, or do not recognize the Genocide do so for political interests and not because they disbelieve its veracity. "Now it is time to work on the legal recognition of the genocide," he told the community, while thanking France for taking decisive steps in the Genocide recognition process. Later on Tuesday, the two presidents were joined by their wives and other dignitaries and leaders for the inauguration of an exhibition of Armenian artifacts at the famed Louvre museum. This is a first of its kind and largest exhibition of Armenian artifacts outside Armenia. Chirac thanked Kocharian and the Armenian authorities for the "splendid exhibition which will give an opportunity to the people of France and foreign visitors to learn about the Armenian culture better." Earlier Tuesday, Kocharian met with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Senate Chairman Christiane Poncelet and National Assembly president Jena-Louis Debres. Kocharian also met with France’s interior minister Nikolas Sarkozy, who is poised to become France’s next president.

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