Yerevan, 21 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's leading foreign policy officials met yesterday with Armenian leaders in Yerevan on the first leg of a joint tour of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten wrapped up talks with a call for a quick settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in the volatile region.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with President Robert Kocharian, Lindh said:
"A peaceful, long-lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will of course facilitate the possibilities for the EU to have close cooperation with Armenia and other countries of the region. We therefore look forward to a solution to the conflict as well as continued regional cooperation, which we think is of utmost importance for the region."
She added that in Yerevan she saw a "clear commitment and political will" to end the 13-year dispute with Azerbaijan.
Lindh told RFE/RL on her arrival in the Armenian capital earlier yesterday that the EU intends to step up its involvement in the region. She said:
"We are here today to reiterate the EU support for both the peace talks going on and also our interest in the region and our willingness and eagerness have the Caucasus higher on the EU agenda for the future."
Sweden currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency.
The EU has been a leading donor to the three Caucasus states, with some 1 billion euros (about $900 million) spent on various assistance programs over the past eight years. A quarter of that has been channeled into Armenia. In addition, the European Commission has played a significant role in boosting the safety of the Metsamor nuclear power station in Armenia. This year alone the European Commission plans to spend 10 million euros ($9 million) on the Soviet-designed nuclear facility.
Commissioner Patten said:
"[We intend to] continue those programs, particularly the regional programs like TRACECA and INOGATE. We'll also be continuing to provide macro-financial assistance and food [security]."
Launched in 1998, TRACECA is an ambitious scheme to build transport links between Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, while the INOGATE initiative is aimed at helping Azerbaijan and oil-rich Central Asian states export their vast hydrocarbon resources. The three high-ranking officials will tomorrow attend the official opening in Baku of a regional TRACECA office.
Lindh said it will demonstrate the EU's strong commitment to the far-reaching project.
"I think it will be one of the proofs that we are increasing our presence and our interest in the region."
All of the three ex-Soviet states view integration into European structures as a key foreign policy goal. Rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan last month joined Georgia in becoming full members of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, an influential organization promoting human rights and democracy.
Armenian officials say membership in the council will give a fresh impetus to their drive to forge closer links with Brussels. The officials were due to travel to the Georgian capital Tbilisi in the evening. Today the three will be in the Azerbaijani capital Baku to meet with officials there and open an office for the EU's TRACECA project.