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Kocharian Seeks Latvia’s Help For European Integration

By Anna Saghabalian

President Robert Kocharian told his visiting Latvian counterpart on Friday that he is keenly interested in the Baltic state’s dramatic post-Soviet transformation and hopes it will help Armenia move closer to the European Union.

Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga arrived in Yerevan the previous night on the final leg of her official tour of the three South Caucasus countries. She was accompanied a large delegation comprising Latvian government officials and dozens of businessmen.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Vike-Freiberga, Kocharian said Armenia has a lot to learn from Latvia’s rapid transition to democracy and the market economy which enabled it to join NATO and the European Union. “The path which Latvia has followed in becoming a member of the European Union is extremely interesting,” he said.

“In some areas relating to reforms, we would like the Latvian side to help us within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy,” he added, referring to an EU scheme designed to build closer ties with the bloc’s neighbors.

Armenia as well as neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia were included in the ENP last year and are each to negotiate individual plans of action stemming from the program. EU officials were scheduled to simultaneously open negotiations on those action plans with all three governments last month. But the talks were postponed due to a diplomatic dispute between Cyprus and Azerbaijan.

The EU’s special representative to the region, Heikki Talvitie, indicated last week that the bloc will start the talks with Armenia and Georgia in November if the dispute is not resolved by the end of this month. Vike-Freiberga said her government would agree with this.

It is not clear if Armenia’s action plan will stress the need for democratic elections, human rights protection and the rule of law. None of the Armenian elections held since independence have been judged free and fair by international observers. By contrast, the legitimacy of Latvian elections has never been questioned both within and outside the country. The former Soviet republic also boasts a much more independent judiciary and mass media.

Officials said the talks between the Armenian and Latvian presidents were dominated by economic issues. The two sides signed agreements on protection of mutual investments and cooperation between their customs agencies. Kocharian and Vike-Freiberga also opened a Latvian-Armenian business forum later in the day.

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