By Armen Zakarian in Tbilisi
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian began a two-day official visit to Georgia on Monday, reiterating Armenia's view that close relations between the two neighboring states are vital for peace and stability in the volatile region.
Meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, and top lawmakers in Tbilisi, Oskanian said unnamed third forces are keen to cause a deterioration of the Armenian-Georgian relationship to "create new division lines" in the South Caucasus.
The talks were dominated by bilateral economic issues, including transport links between the two countries. Georgian officials said they have cracked down on widespread extortion of bribes from Armenian vehicles by the notoriously corrupt Georgian police. But they would not budge on another key concern of Yerevan: the reopening of a strategic railway linking Georgia and Armenia to Russia via the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
The speaker of the Georgian parliament, Nino Burjanadze, again indicated that Tbilisi remains cool to the idea backed by the Armenian and Russian governments. She said that the reopening of the railway, which would significantly reduce the impact of the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia, should be accompanied by the return of ethnic Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia.
Menagharishvili, for his part, assured Oskanian that a trilateral security agreement which is expected to be signed by Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey soon, will not be directed against Armenia. He said it is aimed at combating cross-border drug trafficking, smuggling of weapons and illegal immigration.
The two sides also discussed the situation in Georgia's Javakhetia region predominantly populated by Armenians. Oskanian said he does not share periodical criticism of the Georgian authorities for their treatment of the local population. He said the authorities in Yerevan were not behind recent attempts by some Armenian parliamentarians to raise the issue in the Council of Europe.
Javakhetia Armenians are strongly opposed to the closure of a Russian military base in the region demanded by Tbilisi. Oskanian made it clear that Armenia views the issue as Georgia's internal affair and will not throw its weight behind their demands.