YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–Last year may be called a year of qualitative achievemen’s for Armenia.
Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said this–summing up the last year at the press conference held on January 8. According to him–the year was characterized by stability in domestic policy–which enabled the countries leaders to pay more attention to its foreign relations.
Numerous high-level officials visited Armenia–confirming Armenia’s reputation for being a reliable political partner in the international community.
Many countries also began to view Armenia as a reliable economic partner as well. "Armenia’s efforts to create efficient and satisfactory economic reforms–its efforts to establish a working democratic–law-abiding society did not go unnoticed in the international political community," he said.
Oskanian also said that the stability in the South Caucasus was maintained for the most part in 2001. However–he did acknowledge two very alarming issues: the problem between Iran and Azerbaijan–and the events in Abkhazia–which were–fortunately–resolved without any serious consequences for the region as a whole.
Oskanian also emphasized the enormous impact the September 11 tragedy had on world policy. The most significant development of the political processes–following those events–was the improvement of the Russian-US and Russian-NATO relations. Oskanian said–"I am confident that the improvement of Russian-US relations will have a positive impact in our region and will affirm the viability of the complementary policy Armenia has been carrying out for already three years."
Oskanian spoke about the Karabakh conflict settlement at the news conference–stating that–"In spite of all the efforts of Armenia and international community to include Azerbaijan in the regional cooperation efforts–Azerbaijan continues to refuse–justifying their refusal by citing the Nagorno Karabakh issue. Although the principles discussed in Paris and Key West have not been applied yet–Armenia appreciates their discussion and believes that–in the end–they will serve their purpose in the application of a peace settlement."
Azerbaijan continuously demanded that its territorial integrity be respected by the international community throughout 2001–insisting that Karabakh was an integral piece of their territory. However–Armenia proved to the international community that Azerbaijan has no historical–legal or moral grounds for its claims because Karabakh was never part of an independent Azerbaijan. The territory that Azerbaijan continues to pursue–according to Oskanian–was established illegally under Soviet rule.
Oskanian said that in 2002–Armenia will continue to be involved with OSCE Minsk Group–the only group that both countries–Armenia and Azerbaijan–agreed to contribute to the settlement process.
Oskanian also mentioned that Armenia has always highly appreciated Iran’s balanced policy in the region–which has contributed positively to the stability in the region.
According to the minister–the Armenian-Iranian relations significantly improved through 2001. "Cooperation and mutual understanding between the two countries in the political sphere facilitate progress in the economic sphere," said Oskanian.
He noted that Armenian-Iranian economic cooperation is involved in all facets of civil society in both countries–and over recent years–critical programs were included in the cooperation. Among such programs are the construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline–the construction of the Kajaran tunnel–and the construction of a borderline hydro-power plant. The programs aim to increasing the volumes of trade between the two countries by creating favorable economic conditions to do so.
President Robert Kocharian’s visit to Iran provided a boost to the bilateral relations with Iran. The minister emphasized that there are clear projects responsible for the implementation of these programs in 2002.
Oskanian spoke about Georgian relations for a brief moment at the press conference–stating that Armenian-Georgian relations are considered to be the most important component necessary for regional stability.
According to the minister–Armenia is very much interested in the stability and security of Georgia as well as the security of the Armenian population of Georgia. Armenia attentively follows the events in Abkhazia–Russian-Georgian relations–and the developmen’s within the Turkey-Georgia and Georgia-Azerbaijan relationships.
"We were very pleased with the commitment Georgia made in 2001–not to sign any agreemen’s or take any steps to endanger the safety of Armenia," said Oskanian.
"For Armenian-Russian relations–2001 was remarkable year in which we increased the effectiveness of trade-economic cooperation. Armenia was elevated to an equal level of political relations–economic integrity–and both countries stimulated mutual investmen’s," said Oskanian. "President Putin’s visit to Armenia last September–when the treaty "On economic cooperation between Armenia and Russia" was signed–was very important."
Oskanian was especially pleased with the intergovernmental agreement–prepared at the end of 2001–to repay Armenia’s debt to Russia with property. According to the Minister–it not only provides a way for Armenia to repay its debt to Russia quickly–but it also provides for the revitalization of a number of enterprises that are crucial for the country’s economy.
He also spoke about the ongoing stalemate in Armenian-Turkish relations–saying that despite Armenia’s attempts to include Turkey in regional policy making–no positive changes were made in the Armenian-Turkish relations in 2001. Turkey–he stressed–continues to prevent any negotiations with Armenia and uses the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the Armenian Genocide as carrots for normalized diplomatic relations with Armenia.
"Armenia continues to insist that relations should be normalized without any preconditions–and Turkey must end its 10-year blockade of Armenia’s borders. We believe that Turkey’s policies regarding Armenia has a negative effect on the stability of the region," said the Foreign Minister.
Oskanian pointed out that Armenian-Turkish official contacts are made through international structures–and there is also a mid-level dialogue between the two nations. Oskanian welcomed contacts between the Armenian and Turkish peoples on the social level–however–he said that the Armenian government stands by its belief that the fundamental problems existing between the two countries can be solved only through official governmental negotiations.
The following topic Oskanian discussed at the press conference was Armenia’s relations with the United States. He stated that Armenia was grateful that the US continued its active involvement in a number of regional programs–including programs intended to strengthen Armenia’s democracy and its free market economy. The US also provided a great amount of humanitarian and developmental aid in 2001. After September 11–the US shifted its attention to the anti-terrorism struggle and the Bush administration urged Congress to waive Section 907 of the "Freedom Support Act" to enable the US military to take any actions it deems necessary in the South Caucus regions.
Meanwhile–the minister said–the US Congress adopted another resolution in December 2001 allowing the US administration to render military assistance to Azerbaijan–however forbidding Azerbaijan from using it against the Armenian people any other South Caucasian country. According to Oskanian–this section opened a door for new opportunities for Armenian-American military cooperation. "Armenia believes that the possible military cooperation will establish a new level of cooperation in Armenian-American relations." The Minister also said that this cooperation cannot and will not hamper the further development of the relations between Armenia with Russia or any other CST–CIS member-countries. Oskanian also said that the United States’ assistance to Armenia remained at $90 million in 2001.