By Hrach Melkumian
President Robert Kocharian and his visiting Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Parvanov, pledged on Tuesday to step up cooperation between their nations “in all spheres,” singling out bilateral trade that has grown dramatically over the past year.
Parvanov arrived in Yerevan late on Monday on a two-day official visit which part of his tour of the three South Caucasus states. Economic issues appear to have dominated his talks with Kocharian.
“The presidents express their determination to promote the deepening of political dialogue and bilateral cooperation in all spheres,” the two leaders said in a statement. It said Bulgaria, which is expected to join the European Union by 2007, welcomes Armenia’s integration into European structures and in particular its inclusion in the EU’s New Neighborhood program.
“Our commercial exchange has tripled over the past year,” Parvanov announced at a joint news conference with Kocharian.
“Both sides noted that since my visit to Bulgaria last there has been a fairly serious upswing in our bilateral economic relations,” Kocharian said. “I believe that the Bulgarian president’s visit will also give a serious impetus to that process.”
He added that the Armenian and Bulgarian governments can build on that progress by doubling or even tripling the current volume of trade. That, according to Parvanov, requires the facilitation of the existing ferry link between Bulgarian and Georgian Black Sea ports. Armenia uses it for trading with Bulgaria and other European countries.
The presence of businessmen in the Bulgarian delegation led by Parvanov underscored the economic emphasis of the visit. A special Armenian-Bulgarian business forum was held on that occasion.
The two sides discussed regional issues such as the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Kocharian saying that Sofia is contributing to its peaceful resolution in its current capacity as the rotating president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Karabakh peace talks are mediated by the OSCE’s so-called Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States. The Bulgarian government has a special envoy tasked with facilitating the peace process.