YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Javier Solana arrived in Yerevan from Baku Thursday morning on the last leg of a Transcaucasian tour which he said is aimed at deepening the Alliance’s "good relations" with the three countries of the region. "I think we have good relations and want to continue them," Solana told reporters on his arrival in Yerevan.
Following a meeting with Prime Minister Armen Darbinian–Solana said that there is "space for further cooperation" between NATO and Armenia. Solana said they discussed "the importance of all initiatives of regional importance," adding that he looks "with all the sympathy" at the European Union’s efforts to revive the ancient Silk Road. According to Darpinian–the NATO-Armenia cooperation has a "very serious future."
Solana was also scheduled to visit an Armenian armed forces military college in a Yerevan suburb. Meetings with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian are scheduled for Friday. Armenia has been a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace program since 1994.
Gen. Mikael Harutyunian–Armenian army chief of staff–told RFE/RL on Thursday that the talks will focus on Armenia’s Individual Partnership Program as part of its involvement in the PfP. He said the two sides will discuss a cooperation plan for the next year–which includes training of officers and joint military exercises. He said the Armenia military is interested in learning more about and using some "interesting" elemen’s in the NATO command structure.
"The North Atlantic Alliance would by all means welcome Armenia’s broader participation within the framework of our cooperation programs," Solana wrote in an article distributed to the local press prior to the visit. "We view the Caucasus as one of the most important regions where we have direct interests. After all–the Caucasus is an integral part of the European continent."
Asked on Thursday about Armenia’s close military ties with Russia–Solana indicated that they are not an obstacle to the relationship with NATO. He described the NATO-Russia relationship as "very good." Solana’s visit came a few days after the close of joint Russian-Armenian military exercises.
Yerevan views the presence of Russian military bases on Armenian territory as a crucial element of its security. The troops are mostly deployed near its border with Turkey which has been kept closed by Ankara since the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1992.
A member of NATO–Turkey refuses to open the border and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia until it recognizes Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Solana commented evasively on a question on whether relations between Yerevan and Ankara were discussed at his meeting with Darpinian. "We have talked about all regional problems," he said.
A senior official in the Armenian foreign ministry told RFE/RL on Wednesday that Yerevan will not seek NATO membership in the foreseeable future.