Luxembourg, 24 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has committed itself to play a major role in strengthening democratic institutions, market economies, and independence of the south Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
The partnership and cooperation agreements between EU and south Caucasus states will enter into force July 1. The agreements were signed in 1996 and ratified by all sides last month.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, president of the Council of the European Union, said at the opening session Wednesday of the EU summit dealing with the south Caucasus states that the EU expansion eastward adds to the importance of the south Caucasus region and to its stability and security.
Outlining the objectives of the EU's new economic and political initiatives in south Caucasus states Fischer said Europe has an important stake in the successful political and economic transition of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
The joint declaration adopted at the end of the summit states that partnership and cooperation agreements are providing the framework and the basis for the development of a far-reaching partnership of the European Union with the south Caucasus states on political, trade and investment issues.
Our correspondent says the EU made clear that relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia will increasingly be reflected in a unified foreign policy as the Union moves towards further reinforcement of the common foreign and security policy. The EU wants to boost regional cooperation, the joint declaration states.
Fischer and outgoing president of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, pledged that the EU will use all means at its disposal to boost cooperation not only between the European Union and south Caucasus, but also within the region itself.
The EU has provided assistance to the region in the years 1992-1998 valued at 845 million Euros ($875 million) in an effort to improve transport links and communication in the area.
The EU has said in its statements and other official documents that its intention to increase investments in the region and to boost trade with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia has clear political objectives.
The joint declaration of the Luxembourg summit said conflicts in the south Caucasus are impeding political development of the three states. EU leaders have stated that the effectiveness of the EU assistance to the region will be connected to the development of the peace process in there.
The leaders of the three Caucasus states, the presidents of Armenia and Georgia, Robert Kocharian and Eduard Shevardnadze, and the prime minister of Azerbaijan, Artur Rasizade, welcomed a major European role in the economic development of their countries.
Shevardnadze termed the Luxembourg summit a historical event for his country. He said: "The dream has come true, inspiring us ... at the threshold of the 21st century, with the hope for even more success."
Kocharian also praised the EU for its efforts to boost economic development in the region. He pledged that his country will continue efforts to transform itself into a full-fledged democracy. He expressed the hope that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be settled.
The president of Azerbaijan, Heidar Aliev, was not able to attend the summit, on the advice of his doctors following his recent open-heart surgery. Because of his absence, the Armenian-Azeri talks didn't take place as had been planned.
Our correspondent covering the summit says Azerbaijani Prime Minister Rasizade was also welcomed the commitment made by the EU to strengthen its relations with the region. He described relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia as a perfect example of regional cooperation.
The leaders of the Caucusus countries were basically upbeat about prospects for peace in the region. Shevardnadze said the south Caucasus has the potential to transform itself into a region of peace.
Kocharian, in turn, noted that a meeting between leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia was unthinkable 3 or 4 years ago. This means, he said, that there has been certain progress towards peace. (Harry Tamrazian is RFE/RL's Armenian Service Correspondent)