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By Armen Zakarian in Brussels
Senior officials from Armenia and the European Union held an annual meeting of their “cooperation council” in Brussels on Tuesday that addressed a broad range of political and economic issues of mutual interest.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who headed the Armenian delegation, said that he reaffirmed his country’s long-term plans to seek membership of the expanding bloc. But he declined to specify when it intends to make a formal membership bid.

“Our goal is not just to become a part of the EU, but also to achieve its standards,” Oskanian told RFE/RL after the meeting which he described as “quite effective.” He said the two sides discussed Yerevan’s stated efforts to bring Armenian legislation into conformity with EU standards as well as their broader “political dialogue.”

The council also addressed ways of boosting the Armenia-EU trade, focusing on transport issues. The EU confirmed plans to hold a high-level conference in Yerevan this December on its ambitious TRACECA project to develop new trade routes between Europe and Central Asia. The initiative will soon encompass Iran and Afghanistan, making Armenia a more likely transit country.

According to Oskanian, the meeting further discussed energy issues, with EU officials again pledging to give the Armenian government $100 million in return for the closure of the Metsamor nuclear power plant. The offer was again turned down, with Oskanian reiterating that the strategically important plant will not be shut down before Armenia finds an alternative source of cheap energy.

The cooperation council was set up in 1999 in accordance with a “partnership and cooperation agreement” signed by Armenia and EU member states. Similar accords were also sealed at the time by neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The Azerbaijani and Georgian foreign ministers also arrived in Brussels this week to attend meetings of their respective cooperation bodies. They and Oskanian met on Tuesday with the EU’s two foreign policy chiefs, Javier Solana and Chris Patten.
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