By Emil Danielyan
The presidents of Armenia and Georgia have pledged to strengthen bilateral economic ties and further simplify border crossing procedures for their citizens after their first face-to-face talks since the Russian-Georgian war.
President Serzh Sarkisian met his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili and other Georgian leaders on Tuesday during a two-day visit to Tbilisi. Saakashvili was reported to stress the importance of Georgian-Armenian economic integration as they spoke at a late-night joint news conference in his residence.
"The Georgian-Armenian border should be and already is a border of friendship," Saakashvili said, according to the Georgian Caucasus Press news agency. "We have agreed to work more closely. I have instructed the ministers of finance and economy to visit Yerevan in order to ensure that border crossing procedures are as simple as possible."
"I think that recent developments in Georgia have clearly demonstrated how important regional cooperation is, how everybody suffers from problems and conflicts and how important it is to solve all the issues quickly," Saakashvili said. "I am sure that the future of the Caucasus lies is in the creation of a single market,” he added.
Saakashvili also announced that he and Sarkisian agreed to set up a Georgian-Armenian consortium that will seek to attract foreign funding for the construction of a mountain pass in western Georgia which he said will significantly shorten travel between Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea cost.
Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti process at least 70 percent of cargos shipped to and from Armenia. The two supply routes were temporarily disrupted during Georgia’s brief but devastating war with Russia.
The Yerevan government has sought to maintain neutrality in the Russian-Georgian conflict, anxious not to upset Armenia’s most important neighbor and closest military ally. But it has implicitly blamed Georgia for the August 8 outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia that provoked a harsh Russian retaliation and escalated into an all-out war.
Sarkisian appeared to repeat his thinly veiled criticism of the Georgian government’s ill-fated attempt to win back South Ossetia. “I believe that it is impossible to resolve existing problems through military intervention,” the Regnum news agency quoted him as telling journalists in Tbilisi. “The Caucasus is an object of big [foreign] interests and we must do our best to use those interests to the benefit of our peoples,” he said.
“We must review our relationship and do everything to again improve them. I am sure that we will really be useful to each other,” added the Armenian leader.
Saakashvili signaled his satisfaction with Yerevan’s stance on the Russian-Georgian dispute when he thanked Sarkisian for “expressing support for Georgia’s territorial integrity.” He went on to give Sarkisian a Medal of Honor, a top Georgian state award.