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East: New Black Sea Organization Sets Sail

Prague, 11 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Cooperation is set to intensify between the 11 countries of the Black Sea economic grouping following the signing of a charter giving the group legal standing.

The charter was signed by heads of state and government at a ceremonial summit in Yalta last week (June 5).

Until now, the 11 member states were loosely associated on the basis of a political declaration issued in 1992. With the charter duly signed by all the leaders, the group acquires definite form as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC). Members are Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Albania, Turkey and Greece. The organization's secretariat, based in Istanbul, has been a hive of activity this week as officials begin to utilize the organization's new status. BSEC Deputy Secretary General Nurver Nuresh told RFE/RL that the secretariat has sent a letter to current organisation chairman Bulgaria. The letter formally requests Bulgaria to apply to the United Nations General Assembly for registration of the BSEC.

Nuresh says this means that for the first time there will be formal interaction between the U.N. and the BSEC -- thus opening the way for the BSEC to develop relations on an equal footing with the spcialised agencies of the U.N.

"It will open an entirely new era of further cooperation and possibilities for expanding the BSEC. With this signing in Yalta we have completed the consolidation and formative years of Black Sea economic cooperation."

Nuresh continues, "In fact we have just concluded a meeting under the chairmanship of the BSEC Secretary General (Vassil Baytchev), and now the mission is how do we transform the work we have done so far into viable programs and concrete projects."

Nuresh says that the member states' joint bank, the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, will be functioning before the end of the year. The bank, which is based in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, was founded in March with capital contributions from each member state. Nuresh says it should add impetus to the organization by providing resources for projects.

According to a declaration issued by the Yalta summit, the BSEC places particular emphasis on developing relations with the European Union and the World Trade Organization. It asks for support from both those organizations. The declaration says that the EU and BSEC share the view that cooperation is important in a wide field, including energy, transport, trade, and ecology, with a view to eventually shaping a Euro-BSEC area.

As to the WTO, Nuresh explains that only four BSEC members -- Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece -- are already members of the trade organization. All the others are in various stages of application, the most advanced in the process being Ukraine.

Says Nuresh, "Once we have them all as members then the whole Black Sea region will be active participants in the multilateral trading system. As international trade develops they are destined to play a more effective role in the global trading system. That's why it is important that all member countries become participants in the WTO, and play the game of international trade in accordance with accepted international principles and norms of conduct."

Nuresh says that he "cannot exaggerate" the importance of the Black Sea region to the world. He says it is the second largest source of energy, after the Persian Gulf. Since the need for energy will continue to grow in the industrial and post-industrial economies, development of the Black Sea area resources will be of major concern to them. If the region develops, then instead of relying on the industrial countries, they will be partners themselves with the industrial world.

As Nuresh puts it, as Europe's east gains in strength and self-identity, it will be a stronger partner to Europe's west, and will thus have a role to play in the future architecture of Europe. The future Europe, based on an inclusive and not exclusive architecture, will be able to assert itself in a wider scope of global trading.

Noting the "turbulent" history of the Black Sea countries, Nuresh says he does not wish to minimize the potential for conflict between the regional partners. But he says the BSEC represents the first time that the 11 have come together on the basis of shared ideas and common objectives. As such, BSEC has helped to soften the political climate in the area. He says that hopefully, all sides will in future see the wisdom of joining hands together for peace, stability and the welfare of the people in the area.