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By Emil Danielyan

Armenia and Georgia on Tuesday pledged to strengthen their relationship after sealing a comprehensive treaty on “friendship, cooperation and mutual security” at a summit in Yerevan. The two Caucasus neighbors with sometimes conflicting security priorities also agreed to step up their efforts to link their volatile region more closely to Europe and called for a quick end to the conflict in Abkhazia.

“I think that today’s negotiations mark a new phase in the development of our relations,” Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze declared, ending the first day of his official visit to Armenia. “This is a really big event,” he said of the treaty signed with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian.

Kocharian agreed, saying that the “very serious document” opened “serious prospects for deepening” bilateral ties in the next decade.

The treaty, among other things, obliges either party to refrain from joining alliances that are considered hostile by the other. Kocharian indicated that the provision will allay Armenian concerns Georgia’s growing military links with Turkey. “Georgia and Armenia will never take any steps against each ,” he said.

Shevardnadze again assured that Tbilisi’s military cooperation with Ankara is not directed against Yerevan. “Not a single treaty signed by Georgian leaders will ever be against Armenia’s interests,” he said.

Speaking at a joint news conference after talks in Yerevan, the two leaders said they discussed a broad range of issues of mutual interest, including the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus and bilateral economic cooperation. They vowed to increase the volume of bilateral trade, which stood at a modest $18 million in the first half of the year.

Shevardnadze said the two nations will speed up their efforts at the integration with the European Union and other pan-European bodies. The South Caucasus, he added, should now be referred to as “southeastern Europe” because it is “an integral part” of the continent.

The recent upsurge of violence in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia was high on the agenda of the talks. In Kocharian’s words, Armenia is “no less interested in a quick settlement of the conflict” than Georgia because peace in the strategically important region would bring it economic benefits and guarantee security of Abkhazia’s substantial ethnic Armenian population. Over a dozen local Armenian civilians were reportedly killed earlier this month in attacks on two villages which Abkhazia’s authorities blamed on a combined force of Georgian and Chechen guerillas.

The Georgian authorities, blamed by Abkhazia and Russia for whipping up the latest fighting, has denied any involvement. Shevardnadze claimed that despite the recent bloodshed he sees good prospects for resolving the Abkhaz conflict and urged Russia to play a more active role in mediating a peace deal. He said: “We [Georgia and Armenia] have a good mutual understanding on that score. We pin big hopes on Russia’s more active and useful participation in the settlement of the Abkhaz conflict.”

Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials have often accused Moscow of providing political and military support to the leadership of the unrecognized Abkhaz Republic.
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