YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Noyan Tapan)–Hans van den Broek–the European Union’s commissioner for foreign affairs–on Tuesday held meetings with the top Armenian leadership in Yerevan–stressing the "geopolitical and economic importance" of the Transcaucasus region. Van den Broek arrived in Yerevan Tuesday as part of his tour of the region’s three newly independent countries.
"We will have a lot of useful discussion on issues of relations between Armenia and the European Union. I am looking forward to these discussions with the new government of Armenia," said van den Broek. He emphasized that he was glad to be in Armenia again after two years since his last visit.
Local officials said the commissioner’s meeting with President Robert Kocharian largely focused on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–with the latter explaining Armenia’s new position. Van den Broek told reporters that the EU favors a solution that would uphold Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. He said the two sides expressed satisfaction with their expanding relations. He spoke out for Armenia’s involvement in the EU-funded TRACECA project linking Europe to Central Asia via the Transcaucasus. Van den Broek denied that Europe’s growing interest in the region may provoke disapproval on the part of Russia or the United States.
The EU commissioner is in Yerevan on the first leg of a five-day tour of the three Transcaucasus states–during which he says he will reaffirm Europe’s "commitment to stability–democracy and steady growth" in the region.
A press release put out by the European Commission’s Yerevan representation says van den Broek will call on the leaders of Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia to embark on regional cooperation and further democratization. In particular–he will urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to pursue a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group.
Van den Broek is also quoted as saying that the Transcaucasus is "a region of vital importance" for the EU in view of its geographical position as a "crossroad" between Europe and Asia–and of the vast oil reserves of the Caspian basin.
"We support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries of the region and encourage them to cooperate closely in order to fully use their potential," he said.
The commissioner was scheduled to meet with President Robert Kocharian–Speaker Khosrov Harutiunian–Prime Minister Armen Darbinian–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–and EU envoys to Armenia. He was also to visit the Holy See of St. Etchmiadzin later in the evening and leave for Tbilisi the same day.
"Armenia takes a very important place in the programs of the European Union," EU envoy to Armenia Dennis Corboy told journalists upon arriving in Yerevan Tuesday.
The envoy also said that the opening of the EU Embassy in Armenia is only a matter of time. "We already have an information center here. The relations between Armenia and the European Union are growing closer and closer; the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement has placed our relations on a better basis. You will see close cooperation with the European Union in all spheres," said Corboy.