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Armenia: Kocharian Presses EU For Quicker Regional Outreach

Armenian President Robert Kocharian (file photo) Armenian President Robert Kocharian is on a two-day visit to Brussels to press the European Union for a quicker rapprochement with the south Caucasus countries despite recent problems between the EU and Baku. Azerbaijan has angered EU member state Cyprus by allowing commercial flights to the internationally unrecognized Northern Cyprus. The tussle has thrown a spanner into EU preparations to extend neighborhood policy "action plans" to the region.

Brussels, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The problems between Azerbaijan and EU-member Cyprus come as a very unwelcome development for Armenia.

The EU is in the habit of preferring to deal with entire regions, not single countries at a time. As a result, both Armenia and Georgia have discovered that their EU neighbourhood "action plans" -- paving the way for closer political cooperation and greater economic aid -- are held hostage to the spat between Baku and Nicosia.

Initial hopes that the "action plans" could be negotiated and signed by the end of the year have begun to recede.
"It would be strange if the start of the planned talks between the
[European] Commission and Armenia on the draft action plan remained
blocked by the dispute between Cyprus and Azerbaijan over flights to
Northern Cyprus, since that dispute does not concern Armenia."

The unhappiness in the reactions of Armenian diplomats has been palpable in recent weeks. The country's president, Robert Kocharian, who began a two-day visit to Brussels and the EU's headquarters yesterday, is making sure that unhappiness is being felt by his hosts.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana offered solace, but no guarantees of a quick breakthrough.

"I hope very much that the neighbourhood policy that we have established in the European Union will be a constructive and positive help for Armenia in their relations with the European Union," he said. "As you know still we have not completely started the negotiations, but we hope very much that will be done in the foreseeable future."

EU member states retain full sovereignty in the area of external relations and a single country can theoretically block any decision. The Greek government of Cyprus held out for a long time before giving its consent to EU membership talks with Turkey. Nicosia is likely to face far lesser pressure in the EU in its dealings with Turkey's more remote ally Azerbaijan.

Privately, EU diplomats have told RFE/RL that no decisions on the south Caucasus "action plans" will be made before Azerbaijani elections in November. Even so, officials indicate there are no guarantees of a breakthrough for Armenia and Georgia before the end of the year.

Kocharian yesterday told EU officials that "no country should pay the price for the problems of others."

He did draw support from Josep Borrell, the president of the European Parliament.

"It would be strange if the start of the planned talks between the [European] Commission and Armenia on the draft action plan remained blocked by the dispute between Cyprus and Azerbaijan over flights to Northern Cyprus, since that dispute does not concern Armenia. We have been talking about that with the president and I told him [of] my strong commitment that these talks should be starting at the planned [time]."

However, Borrell's support is of little practical value to Kocharian, as the parliament has no say in EU foreign policy decisions.

Nevertheless, the parliament has a role to play in shaping the political climate in the EU and thus indirectly helps shape longer term decisions. Borrell yesterday pointed to earlier efforts by the parliament that helped secure the southern Caucasus an EU special representative, and forced the EU to include the three countries in the neighborhood policy.

The European Parliament has also been vocal in calling on Turkey to open its border with Armenia and recognize the Armenian genocide. Borrell yesterday recalled that the parliament had adopted a resolution calling for the steps before EU entry talks were launched with Turkey.

"The parliament has already set out a declaration on the opening of negotiations with Turkey," Borrell said. "We have already said whatever we think we should have said. And the opening of the border and the recognition of the Armenian genocide was [mentioned] in that resolution, that the parliament strongly requires these as a condition. But this is the point of view of the parliament, we will have to see."

Again, the European Parliament had no formal powers to affect the decision on Turkey. Its approval will be needed before Turkey can accede to the EU, but that vote is unlikely to take place before the middle of the next decade.

Kocharian yesterday asked the EU to bring its influence to bear on Turkey to reopen the railroad to Georgia -- which passes through Armenia -- instead of building a new, direct link.

Solana told Kocharian the EU will "do its best." However, last year diplomats told RFE/RL the EU was inclined to agree with Azerbaijani claims that the Armenian-Turkish border is one of the very few levers the international community has on Yerevan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Kocharian is due today to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.