By Armen Zakarian
Georgia’s State Minister Zurab Zhvania paid a one-day working visit to Armenia on Monday, saying that the new government in Tbilisi would like to bolster relations between the two countries seen as vital for stability in the volatile region.
“I hope that the new Georgian leadership will be able to give a new impetus to the Georgian-Armenian relationship,” Zhvania told reporters in Yerevan before going into talks with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
“There can be no problems between us,” he said. “I am very optimistic in that sense.”
The Armenian president’s press office reported that Kocharian and Zhvania agreed on the “importance of activating and deepening bilateral relations” after the January 4 pre-term presidential election in Georgia.
The vote will formalize the handover of power from former President Eduard Shevardnadze to young pro-Western politicians that ousted him in a popular uprising last November. Zhvania, who holds the second highest post in the Georgian executive, was one of the leaders of the bloodless “rose revolution.” His longtime ally Mikhail Saakashvili will almost certainly be elected Georgia’s new president.
Zhvania was said to brief Kocharian on the current political situation in Georgia which is closely watched by the Armenian leaders for signs of instability that could threaten Armenia’s commercial communication with the rest of the world.
Markarian underscored those concerns when he expressed hope that the January 4 vote will help Georgia finally overcome its serious political crisis sparked by the troubled November 2 election. He also lobbied for a reduction in Georgia’s transit fees for Armenian cargos, presenting Zhvania with what his press office described as a written document purporting to justify such a measure.
The Georgian premier, according to it, responded that his cabinet plans a major review of Georgian railway tariffs at the beginning of next year and “will certainly take into account the arguments of the Armenian side.” He also called for closer Georgian-Armenian cooperation in transport, energy and other economic areas.
In an interview with Armenian state television last month, Saakashvili acknowledged that the existing transit fees are too high and promised to lower them once in office.
Also on the agenda of the talks was the overall situation in the South Caucasus and the two countries’ efforts to forge closer links with the European Union. Zhvania reportedly told Markarian that Tbilisi has a “neutral position” on the main source of regional instability, the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Zhvania arrived in Yerevan with Georgia’s new Foreign Minister Tedo Japaridze who held a separate meeting his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian. Japaridze said he and Oskanian agreed to meet in Tbilisi next month.
(Photolur photo: Zhvania, left, meeting with Oskanian.)