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(AP) - Armenian President Robert Kocharian appealed to the European Union on Thursday to offer his country closer political and economic ties to boost reforms in the Caucasus nation.

In his visit to EU headquarters, Kocharian asked European Commission President Romano Prodi to include Armenia in a new political plan to set up closer relations with the EU's neighbors after it expands eastward next year.

"We hope our region will be included in new neighborhood strategy," Kocharian told reporters.

Prodi said his office was still busy drawing up the plans and it was "too early to say" whether Armenia would be included in the so-called Wider Europe strategy, which EU leaders asked Prodi to formulate this year.

"We have to intensify the scope of agreement and cooperation," Prodi said, adding that the EU stood ready to "deepen" relations with Armenia and its neighbors, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The aim of the strategy is to forge closer cooperation in key areas such as the fight against human trafficking, drugs and organized crime with countries that will remain outside the EU as of next May, when 10 new members join. The strategy will also include much needed economic aid for countries like Ukraine, Moldova and countries in the Western Balkans - the countries which will neighbor the new EU.

The new members are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta.

On Wednesday Kocharian visited with NATO's outgoing Secretary General Lord Robertson, who said the alliance was considering opening a permanent office in the Caucasus. Armenia, like Georgia, has lobbied hard for closer links with the EU and NATO.

(Photolur photo: Kocharian meeting Robertson on Wednesday.)
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