In what was his second visit abroad in less than two months, Former President Robert Kocharian met with his former French counterpart Jacques Chirac in Paris on Wednesday, his office confirmed the next day.
A spokesman for Kocharian, Victor Soghomonian, declined to divulge any details of the meeting. He told RFE/RL only that the ex-president is paying a “private visit” to France and will return to Armenia “in the coming days.”
The trip coincided with President Serzh Sarkisian’s official visit to Paris during which he held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is certain to stoke renewed speculation about Kocharian’s return to active politics.
Kocharian, who has kept a low profile since handing over power to Sarkisian in April 2008, already visited Tehran in late January for talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Both his office and the Armenian Foreign Ministry insisted that the ex-president met them in his private capacity.
Some Armenian politicians and commentators were quick to speculate then that Kocharian is plotting a political comeback and will openly challenge Sarkisian soon. But others, notably senior members of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), insisted that Kocharian flew to Tehran on a diplomatic mission assigned by Sarkisian.
Vladimir Karapetian, the HAK’s foreign policy spokesman, had a similar explanation for Kocharian’s talks in Paris, saying that they focused on the latest international plan to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which has been drafted by the French, Russian and U.S. diplomats.
“Armenia has rejected the new document and needs to provide explanations on what agreements existed before,” Karapetian claimed. “I think Serzh Sarkisian needed Robert Kocharian to reaffirm the past agreements, especially those on the return of [Armenian-controlled] territories.”
But a spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) dismissed such speculation. Eduard Sharmazanov said it is not uncommon for former presidents around the world to “actively participate in one or another geopolitical process.”
“This is a common practice and I don’t think we should see anything extraordinary in it,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, citing the example of former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
The Karabakh conflict was high on the agenda of Sarkisian’s Wednesday talks with Sarkozy. The Associated Press news agency quoted a spokesman for the French president as saying that Sarkozy expressed concern that a diplomatic process between Armenia and Azerbaijan initiated about 18 months ago is losing steam. The French leader urged both sides to take “the necessary efforts and compromises,” the official said without elaboration.
“We are making every effort in that direction,” Sarkisian said in an interview with the French daily “Le Figaro” published on Thursday. “Azerbaijan is trying to create the impression that Armenia and Karabakh are not interested in the conflict’s resolution but that certainly does not correspond to reality. We have to put an end to the blockade from which we have been suffering.”
“Azerbaijan is in a different situation,” added Sarkisian. “It is pinning hopes on its natural riches and petrodollars to buy weapons and resolve the conflict by force. They don’t hide their intentions.”