YEREVAN (Yerkir–RFE/RL)–The European Union’s special representative to South Caucasus Peter Semneby Monday criticized Azerbaijan for calling for the resumption of military activities as a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said if Azerbaijan continued to make hostile calls then the EU would be forced to make them realize that the resurgence of military activities could have a negative impact on the further development of the process.
"Any military solution concerns us," the visiting dignitary told a joint press conference with Armenia’s foreign minister Vartan Oskanian.
In response to a reporter’s inquiry about possible sanctions against any country calling for the resumption of war–Semneby said "I cant’s talk of sanctions but the EU can convince the sides to stay away from military assertions because it would not be in their interest."
The diplomat explained that such a course not only be detrimental in politically–but also in economic terms as the countries of the region are building free-market economies and a war would make investors reconsider their decisions of investing in the region.
Oskanian said that the two discussed joint Armenia-EU initiatives–the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–Armenia’s relations with its neighbors and next year’s parliamentary elections in Armenia.
When asked whether the OSCE Minsk Group US co-chairman Matthew Bryza–would make new proposals on the conflict resolution process during his visit to the region–Oskanian said such proposals do not drop from the sky–but rather are formulated at the negotiation table. He added he hoped Bryza could convince Azerbaijan to resume talks.
The freedom and fairness of parliamentary elections due in Armenia next spring will be "crucially important" for the Armenian government’s drive to forge closer political and economic links with the European Union–Semneby said.
The EU representative warned that a repeat of serious electoral fraud would seriously jeopardize Yerevan’s participation in the European Neighborhood Policy program that provides for a privileged partnership with the 25-nation bloc. Speaking during a regular visit in Yerevan–he said the plan of ENP-related actions which the Armenian government is currently discussing with the EU will include a pledge to conduct the upcoming polls in accordance "European values–standards and norms," reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
"The elections that will follow the entry into force of the action plan will be a crucially important test for Armenia in terms of the quality of its future relationship with the European Union," Semneby told a news conference after talks with senior Armenian officials.
"After all–Armenia has committed itself and has confirmed in the far-reaching and detailed document–which will regulate the Armenia-EU relationship–that free and fair elections are a top priority," he said. "That is why I expect the elections to be free and fair."
The EU has always added its voice to Western criticism of the Armenian authorities’ handling of elections. In particular–the bloc questioned their "commitment to democracy" in the wake of last November’s constitutional referendum which was marred by allegations of massive vote rigging. However–EU pressure for Armenia’s democratization was otherwise minimal until recently.
The EU signaled its intention to press harder for political reform in February when its External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner visited Yerevan and raised the issue with Armenian leaders. They assured her that they will do their best to tackle the chronic vote rigging.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the issue was high on the agenda of his talks with Semneby. He said Yerevan is close to completing its negotiations with the EU on the ENP action plan and will publicize the document "soon."The Armenian side is having virtually no problems [in the talks,]" he said. "There are a number of minor outstanding issues which we think will be sorted out in the course of next week."
Semneby’s itinerary in Yerevan also included a meeting with President Robert Kocharian. The meeting was apparently not held in the presidential palace in Yerevan–with photographs released by the presidential press service showing Kocharian wearing casual clothes.