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Armenia: President Pledges Closer Ties With Greece

Yerevan, 12 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Armenia and Greece today pledged to promote bilateral ties, putting the emphasis on increased economic cooperation.

Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Constantinos Stephanopoulos of Greece, currently on a visit to Yerevan, said the development of their relationship is not aimed against neighboring Turkey with which both nations have strained relations.

Stephanopoulos told a joint news conference that they had "agreed to redouble ... efforts in economic and cultural spheres because [bilateral] political ties cannot be improved any further. He characterized political ties as "excellent".

Kocharian said the two nations have "similar approaches on virtually all issues".

The two leaders spoke after the signing of two economic agreements. The documents envisage avoidance of double taxation of Armenian and Greek businesses and cooperation between the two countries' customs bodies.

Kocharian said it is "no coincidence" that Greece's government-controlled OTE firm has an 80 percent share in the ArmenTel telecommunication monopoly. OTE in late 1997 won an international tender for the company with a $200 million bid. The Armenian and Greek leaders made it clear that the growing ties do not serve as a counterweight to neighboring Turkey's influence in the region.

Kocharian said they "should not be viewed as an alliance against any other country." Athens and Yerevan have strained relations with Ankara largely stemming from the legacy of centuries-old Turkish domination of the largely Christian nations. Greece is among those countries that have officially condemned as a "genocide" the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

President Stephanopoulos was expected to lay a wreath at a Yerevan memorial to more than one million victims.

Kocharian said also on the agenda of the talks was development of "trilateral relations," in an apparent reference to a loose economic grouping comprising Armenia, Greece and Iran. Some observers view the grouping through the prism of its members' traditional rivalry with Turkey. A senior military official in Yerevan said yesterday that of all NATO member states Greece is the one with which Armenia has had the closest cooperation within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program.

General Mikael Harutiunian, chief of staff of the Armenian armed forces, said a 1996 agreement on military cooperation is being implemented successfully. That, he said, has involved training of the Armenian military personnel in Greece and a joint participation in inspection teams monitoring international compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

Kocharian also said Armenia is seeking Greece's assistance for its efforts to integrate in European structures.