YEREVAN/PARIS (Armenpress–RFE/RL)–Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili will arrive in Yerevan on Friday for two-day official visit that will cover a broad range of bilateral issues.
President Robert Kocharian’s office said Saakashvili will lead a large Georgian government delegation composed of the ministers of foreign affairs–energy–and economic development–as well as senior parliamentarians.
The trip will mark Saakashvili’s first-ever face-to-face meeting with Kocharian. The 36-year-old popular leader–who was elected president in early January–is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Andranik Markarian–parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Catholicos Karekin II. His itinerary includes a visit to the Dzidzernagapert genocide memorial in Yerevan.
Economic issues are expected to dominate the talks–with the Armenian side likely to push for a reduction in disproportionately high transit fees charged by Georgia on cargo shipmen’s to and from Armenia. Saakashvili publicly promised to lower them last December; however–his ministers have been more ambivalent on the subject.
The two sides will also likely discuss the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus. Saakashvili’s dramatic rise to power as a result of last November’s "rose revolution" in Tbilisi could solidify growing US presence in the volatile region and accelerate the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia.
Tigran Torosian–the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament–said Yerevan expects the new regime in Tbilisi to maintain a "balanced policy" on Azerbaijan and Armenia. Torosian also welcomed Saakashvili’s recent calls for the creation of a regional single market–but said the realization of the idea is "unfortunately a long way off."
It is unclear whether the situation in Javakhk–the impoverished Armenian-majority region in southern Georgia will be on the agenda. Saakashvili has vowed greater central government attention to the grave socioeconomic problems Javakhk Armenia’s face. He recently appointed Tbilisi’s outgoing ambassador in Yerevan Nikoloz Nikolozishvili–as governor of greater Samtskhe-Javakhk province.
Speaking at a press conference in Paris yesterday–Saakashvili–when asked whether autonomy will be granted to Javakhk–responded by saying–"Our relationship with Armenia is on a very good level; such statemen’s can not damage them," but emphasized that they could have a negative impact on the Javakhk Armenia’s–and added that the issue is not at the top of the agenda during his upcoming visit to Yerevan
Levon Mkrtchian–a leader of the coalition government’s Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)–stressed–however–that Javakhk will become "a center of Armenian-Georgian friendship," if the Saakashvili administration ensures better protection of the local population’s "economic and cultural rights."