By Armen Zakarian in Tbilisi
The governments of Armenia and Georgia sealed a final agreement on Tuesday rescheduling Tbilisi's $16 million debt to Yerevan following year-long negotiations.
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian signed the agreement with Georgian Finance Minister Zurab Noghaideli on the second day of his official visit to Georgia. The Georgian debt, originally due to be settled by the end of 2002, will now be repayable in 20 years.
The repayment is to start from 2004. The amount of the unpaid debt will increase by three percent each year. The Armenian government had previously demanded a four-percent interest rate. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian had insisted on the higher rate during talks with Noghaideli in Yerevan last September. But Yerevan eventually agreed to the three-percent rate in what Oskanian described as a "goodwill gesture."
Georgia also owes Armenia an additional $4 million dollars for past supplies of electricity. That debt was not covered by Tuesday's deal. Under an earlier agreement between the energy ministries of the two neighboring states, it was supposed to be fully repaid by next March. Energy officials in Yerevan, however, say the Georgians are unlikely to meet the deadline.
Georgia remains gripped by a severe energy crisis similar to one which
Armenia faced in the early and mid-1990s. A power outage at the headquarters of Patriarch Ilia II, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, during his meeting with Oskanian underscored the extent of electricity shortages.
Oskanian met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze earlier in the day. Shevardnadze's office said the two men concentrated on regional affairs, including the resolution of ethnic disputes and possible economic integration. No further details of the meeting were immediately available.
Oskanian said during talks with his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, on Monday that Yerevan continues to believe that warm relations between the two neighbors is vital for regional stability. Menagharishvili, for his part, assured that the upcoming security agreement between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey will not be directed against Armenia.
Patriarch Ilia said Armenia and Georgia share common interests by the virtue of being a "Christian oasis" in a largely Muslim surrounding. He also urged their governments to join forces in limiting the spread of non-traditional, mostly Christian, "sects" in their countries.