EU Links Armenia’s Eastern Partnership with Turkey, Azerbaijan Ties

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia will have to improve relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan if it is to be included in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic and current holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency indicated Wednesday after talks with his visiting Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian.

Karel Schwarzenberg said Armenia’should improve its relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey if it is to qualify for Eastern Partnership that offers six former Soviet republics much closer ties with the bloc in return for political and economic reforms. He said there could soon be “very positive developmen’s” in Turkish-Armenian ties and described as “promising” the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

Eastern Partnership is designed to boost financial support and cooperation for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, bringing them closer to the EU, politically and economically. The program’s objective is to boost political cooperation and integrate ex-soviet states into EU economy, as well as extend financial assistance to these countries and ensure energy security in the post-soviet space.

Schwarzenberg also urged Armenia’s leadership to engage in an “intensive dialogue” with the domestic oposition to defuse lingering political tensions in the country, stressing that such a dialogue is essential for Armenia’s inclusion in the Eastern Partnership.

“We believe that the best way out of the situation is dialogue,” he said. “We won’t push, we are recommending Armenia to overcome the situation by means of an intensive dialogue with the opposition.”

Schwarzenberg said such a dialogue is essential for Armenia to qualify for Eastern Partnership. “Of course we know that Armenia has already taken some steps to improve the situation but those efforts should continue,” he said, referring to the continuing imprisonment of dozens of opposition members arrested following the 2008 presidential election.

Nalbandian reiterated his government’s assertions that none of those oppositionists is a political prisoner. Still, he said Yerevan is committed to fully complying with Council of Europe resolutions that demand the release of all individuals arrested on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.”

Speaking at a joint news conference with Schwarzenberg, Nalbandian also said the Armenian government is prepared to negotiate with the opposition. The opposition has so far failed to display such readiness, he said.

The EU is due to formally launch Eastern Partnership at a summit of its member states that will take place in Prague in May. President Serzh Sarkisian is expected to attend the summit.

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