By Ahto Lobjakas in Brussels and Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian called Wednesday for “de facto and de jure independence” for Nagorno-Karabakh as he secured an important endorsement from the European Union of his view that Armenia and Azerbaijan can restore their economic links before the settlement of their bitter territorial dispute. The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said after talks with Kocharian in Brussels that the normalization of relations between the two Caucasian arch-rivals should begin with economic cooperation.
Kocharian and the President of the European Parliament Nicole Fontaine
Prodi cited the European Union as an example of economic cooperation preceding more intensive political cooperation." It was always a European-style habit to use economic cooperation as the first phase of more intensive political cooperation,” he told reporters. “So, I think that it is easier in difficult situations to start just with economic cooperation, so I urge and hope that this will be done."
The EU has been trying to promote economic cooperation and integration in the volatile South Caucasus through a number of far-reaching transportation projects which would, among other things, facilitate trade between the region and Europe. Azerbaijan is categorically against normalizing relations with Armenia until a solution is found to the Karabakh conflict. Baku believes that economic cooperation would alleviate social and economic hardships suffered by Armenians and discourage them from making major concessions.
Yerevan, on the other hand, takes the view that that confidence-building measures such as the reopening of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for commerce and transit would facilitate the search for a mutually acceptable peace formula. Kocharian reiterated this stance on the eve of his visit to Brussels earlier this week.
The Armenian leader said on Wednesday that relations between Azerbaijan and Karabakh must be on an equal footing under a future peace deal. That, he said, should mean granting Karabakh both de facto and de jure independence.
"De jure, yes. We are discussing now how to solve the problem and there are three very important points upon which the issue could be solved. Equal rights-- for both sides-- it means de facto and de jure independence for Nagorno Karabakh."
Prodi and Kocharian also discussed EU-Armenian trade relations and EU aid programs. The chief EU executive said he was pleased that, despite many difficulties, Armenia remains committed to closing the Metsamor nuclear power plant.
Kocharian said his country wants to deepen its ties with the EU within the framework of the "partnership and cooperation" agreement it signed and the EU two years ago. He emphasized the fact that the EU is Armenia's biggest trading partner, already accounting for nearly 40 percent of its annual turnover. Armenia is keen to bring its laws into conformity with European norms and standards, according to Kocharian.