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By Artur Terian in Moscow

President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials said on Tuesday that the assets-for-debt agreement with the Armenian government, negotiated for the past several months, will be finalized before the end of this month.

Putin said at the start of a meeting with his visiting Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian that the two sides are working “intensively” on details of the scheme and will sort out all sticking points “by the end of the year.” “We must settle this problem of debts and further cooperation,” Putin told Kocharian.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters afterwards that “considerable progress” was made at the talks but gave no details. “Generally, there is satisfaction regarding the work that has already been done, but there is also an understanding that we have to move faster,” said Klebanov.

Under the planned agreement, Moscow will write off much of Yerevan’s $94 million debt in return for obtaining substantial stakes in state-run Armenian companies. The precise list of those companies has still to be agreed.

Economic issues were the main theme of Kocharian’s two-day working trip to Russia, which precedes his three-day official visit to Japan. The Armenian president on Monday met with the chief executives of the Gazprom monopoly and its main exporting arm, the ITERA corporation. A Gazprom spokesman told RFE/RL that Kocharian pledged to clear all debts for the supplied natural gas in the course of next year.

But there was no word on the Russian company’s possible participation in the planned construction of a gas pipeline linking Iran to Armenia. Kocharian is expected to discuss the $120 million project during a visit to Tehran later this month.
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