YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government Thursday assured senior officials from the European Union that it remains committed to shutting down the Medzamor nuclear power plant by the year 2004 as the two sides agreed to help the resource-poor country find alternative sources of energy.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the head of a top EU delegation announced after talks in Yerevan that they reaffirmed Medzamor’s closure deadline–agreed in the past–and will set up a joint group to look into costs involved.
"The two sides agreed to foster the closure of Medzamor through a diversification of energy supplies and technical assistance [to Armenia]," the EU office in Armenia’said in a statement. It said an agreement was reached to form a "working group" that will deal with "costs related to the shutdown–development of alternative energy sources and the funding for a comprehensive program" to that effect.
The agreement came at the annual meeting of a joint Armenia-EU commission. Oskanian told the delegation that a "clear" plan is needed to make up for the energy demand after the Medzamor plant–which generates some 35 percent of Armenia’s electricity–ceases to operate.
Despite serious safety concerns in the West–Medzamor was re-activated after a long halt in 1995 to alleviate severe energy shortages in Armenia.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development had provided $10 million in loans for the re-activation process on the condition that the nuclear plant will be finally closed by 2004. Last Tuesday–President Robert Kocharian told a international consultative body overseeing nuclear safety in Armenia that Medzamor has operated without "serious failures."
Meanwhile–the joint commission also agreed that the improvement of "business environment," efficient government and development of a "healthy" legal system in Armenia "should become they key aims of the Armenia-EU cooperation," the statement said.
"A commission was formed to monitor progress in the improvement of business environment in Armenia," it said. The EU officials announced at the meeting some 50 million ecus ($58.8 million) in new gran’s and loans to Armenia. The move will bring the total amount of EU aid to Armenia’since its independence in 1991 to over 250 million ecus.
Oskanian said an Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation–signed in 1996 and expected to take effect next year–will also provide for a "political dialogue" between Armenia and the most powerful economic grouping in the world.
The EU has signed similar agreement with the two other countries of South Caucasus–Azerbaijan and Georgia. The statement said the EU plans to invite leaders of the three former Soviet republics to a "first high-level meeting within the framework of the APC," tentatively scheduled for June 1999 in Luxembourg.