By Armen Zakarian
Italian Ambassador Paolo Andrea Trabalza, who recently met Levon Ter-Petrosian together with senior Yerevan-based diplomats from other European Union member countries, said Monday that he thinks the former Armenian president is reluctant to stage a political comeback.
“My impression is that the former president is not so willing to come back to politics,” Trabalza told RFE/RL in an interview. “Perhaps he is also disappointed with the reaction of Armenians at the time [of his forced resignation in February 1998]. Therefore, I think that those journalists, who write that he might come back if he is backed by many, may be right.”
Ter-Petrosian’s possible participation in next February’s presidential elections has been a subject of speculation over the past several months. Members of his inner circle have told RFE/RL recently that he is unlikely to run for president without winning the support of a broad range of opposition forces. The ex-president himself has not yet commented on his plans, maintaining his four-year moratorium on public speeches and interviews.
Trabalza and the ambassadors of several other EU states got a rare glimpse into Ter-Petrosian’s thinking when they held an unpublicized meeting with him last month. The meeting took place at the Italian diplomat's official residence. According to some of Ter-Petrosian's associates, they inquired about the ex-president's election plans but were not given definite answers.
Trabalza downplayed the significance of the “friendly conversation,” saying that there was “nothing special” in it. “It’s part of our duty to meet with various Armenian citizens. You can’t get an idea of the country if you only listen to one side,” he said.
“Yes, we talked [with Ter-Petrosian] about Nagorno-Karabakh, about everything,” the Italian envoy added. “We asked what he thinks about the existing situation in Armenia and what he thinks Armenia should do vis-à-vis the European Union.”
While in power, Ter-Petrosian won praise from Western leaders and political analysts for favoring more concessions to Azerbaijan for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Some Armenian pundits believe that the West would welcome Ter-Petrosian’s return to power because that would increase the likelihood of a Karabakh settlement.
Noting that an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal is “not very close now,” Trabalza endorsed Ter-Petrosian’s belief that Armenia can not quickly recover from its post-Soviet economic slump without a solution to the conflict. He said: “If the two sides don’t make concessions, the settlement would be postponed. The more it is postponed, the more time it will take for Armenia to recover the [economic] position it had before the Soviet collapse.”