By BROOKS TIGNER, BRUSSELS
The European Union aims to open talks soon with Armenia to strengthen the latter’s security and political relations with the 25-nation bloc, according to EU officials. Two of the union’s aims are to get Armenia and Turkey to settle their border dispute and, more important, to help find a solution to Armenia’s longstanding conflict with Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Meeting EU officials here Oct. 20-21, Armenian President Robert Kocharian was told by the union’s top foreign and security policy chief, Javier Solana, that his country and Turkey must settle their border dispute. He said this was a precondition for Turkey’s prospective EU membership, and is necessary for building up political trust in a region riddled with bilateral suspicions in all directions.
Reflecting widespread sentiment within his institution, Josep Borrell — president of the European Parliament — said Ankara should acknowledge the killing of Armenians during World War I as an act of genocide. Ankara has categorically refused to do this so far, insisting that the estimated 350,000 Armenians killed are a responsibility of the long-defunct Ottoman Empire. The issue remains a major irritant in Armenia-Turkey relations.
Solana also said the union supports the goal of finding a negotiated solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. “I hope very much that an opportunity is opening up now. And the EU is willing to help,” he told reporters.
How soon such a solution can be reached is anyone’s guess, however. Armenia remains formally at war with Azerbaijan over the territorial dispute, despite more than a decade of efforts by Russia, the United States, the European Union, United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to bring the conflict to an end.
Elsewhere, Kocharian met European Commission President Jose Barroso and other officials Oct. 21 to review prospects for stronger EU-Armenia economic ties. The commission recommended in March that the EU intensify its relations with Armenia via the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which places large emphasis on trade and economic relations with the union’s immediate neighbors. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were accorded the much-coveted ENP status in June 2004.