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Armenia: Membership Of Council Of Europe Seems Imminent

Yerevan, 12 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A senior Italian official, on a visit to Yerevan over the weekend, said Armenia has a good chance to become a full member of the Council of Europe in the very near future.

Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Valentino Martinelli told reporters on a one-day official visit on Saturday that he was sure membership would come after Armenia's parliamentary elections in May. He made the comment on the last leg of a tour of the three Transcaucasian states.

Martinelli did not specify if Armenia's membership in the influential human rights organization is contingent on the conduct of the polls. Previous elections in Armenia have been marred by major irregularities and criticized by Western-led monitoring missions. Some senior officials in the Council of Europe have already made it clear that Yerevan must ensure that the elections are free and fair.

Another obstacle to Armenia's membership in the organization is its unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But Martinelli said the decade-long conflict should not hinder Armenia's integration into European structures. Martinelli called the dispute over Karabakh "a problem of Armenia and Azerbaijan," adding that he did not think its resolution was a prerequisite for Armenian entry into the Council of Europe.

He said "little by little" Armenia has "come into the European world" and is now "really a European" nation.

Georgia was the first Transcaucasian state to effectively secure full membership in the Council last January. Armenia and Azerbaijan currently enjoy the status of "special guests" in the organization.

Martinelli was speaking after meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. Development of Armenian-Italian relations as well as the current state of the Karabakh peace process topped the talks' agenda, official sources said. According to the press service of the Armenian foreign ministry, the two sides also discussed the "Armenian-Russian and Armenian-Turkish relationships."

Kocharian's press office said that also on agenda were details of a visit to Armenia next July by Pope John Paul. It was the first time officials had named the approximate date of the pontiff's planned first-ever visit to Armenia. A formal invitation to the Pope was extended by Kocharian late last month during a visit to Vatican.