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Armenian Government, Opposition Preparing For Landmark Talks

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian

YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his governing coalition have formed a team to hold talks with the Armenian National Congress (HAK) in what is seen as another concession to the opposition alliance, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian's spokesman, Armen Arzumanian, said on July 9 that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its two junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Orinats Yerkir parties, will each appoint two members to the working group.

"The first working discussion [with the HAK] could be organized already in the next 10 days," Arzumanian said.

The potentially significant development is part of an unfolding dialogue between Armenia's political leadership and its largest opposition force, which was made possible by a series of concessions from Sarkisian in April and May.

Those included the release of all HAK supporters remaining in prison.

The two sides have not held any face-to-face meetings on ways to ease political tensions. The HAK insists that the dialogue should take the form of formal negotiations between special delegations formed for that purpose.

Sarkisian and the HHK rejected this format until recently.

But in a June 17 statement, the president said that the two rival sides could discuss pressing issues facing Armenia "through specially designated individuals."

He said representatives of the HHK, the BHK, and Orinats Yerkir could "sit down at the negotiation table" with an HAK delegation set up in early June.

Arzumanian cited this statement as he made the announcement on July 9. He also said HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrossian effectively accepted Sarkisian's proposals at his last rally held on June 30.

At the rally, Ter-Petrossian assured thousands of supporters that Sarkisian will soon agree to the format of the dialogue favored by the HAK.

The HAK on July 11 declined to comment on Arzumanian's announcement.

"We still haven't seen any official decision, decree, or directive on the delegation formed by the authorities for the dialogue," said Arman Musinian, an HAK spokesman.

The ruling HHK will be represented in the working group by Davit Harutiunian and Gagik Minasian, the chairmen of the parliament committees on legal affairs and economic policy, respectively.

The BHK also appointed two senior lawmakers to the group. One of them, Naira Zohrabian, described the dialogue as an important milestone in the "formation of a new political culture of mutual tolerance" in the country.

Minasian said the governing coalition has yet to come up with its preferred agenda for the upcoming discussions with HAK representatives.

"The first meeting will clear up many things," he told RFE/RL. "Statements will be made and the agenda will be determined."

The HAK wants the dialogue to center on the holding of fresh national elections, its key demand.

Ter-Petrossian said on June 30 that his political force will campaign for Sarkisian's immediate resignation if that demand is not met. One of his close associates, Levon Zurabian, warned that this campaign would involve nonstop street protests.

Sarkisian and other coalition leaders have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of snap votes. They say that the next parliamentary and presidential elections will be held as planned in 2012 and 2013, respectively.