By Emil Danielyan
Defense Minster Serzh Sarkisian was reported to push for a reduction in Georgian cargo transit fees and a restoration of rail communication between Armenia and Russia on a visit to Tbilisi on Friday .
Sarkisian, who is also the secretary of President Robert Kocharian’s national security council, was due to raise the issue at a meeting with Zurab Zhvania, Georgia’s prime minister. His call for a quick reopening of the railway passing through the breakaway republic of Abkhazia and Georgia proper appears to have been rejected the previous day by Vano Merabishvili, the secretary of the Georgian Security Council.
“Armenia, Russia and Georgia are interested in resuming railway traffic. But we believe that it's impossible to immediately solve this problem because it should be solved in the context of an Abkhaz settlement,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted Merabishvili as saying after talks with Sarkisian.
Georgian officials have said in the past that the restoration of the rail link should happen parallel to the return of more than 200,000 ethnic Georgians who were forced to flee Abkhazia when Tbilisi lost control over the Black Sea region in the 1992-93 secessionist war. Russian President Vladimir and his former Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze agreed in principle on such a formula at a meeting in March 2003. It is not clear Shevardnadze’s successor, Mikhail Saakashvili, stands by the deal.
Merabishvili said Armenia could speed up a solution to the problem by using its “influence and authority with Russia.” He did not explain what specifically Tbilisi would like Yerevan to do.
Tbilisi has long accused Russia of supporting the independence-minded leadership of Abkhazia and hindering a solution to the conflict that would restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.
The Armenian government has better chances of securing a decrease in the transit fees levied from cargoes transported through Georgian territory to and from Armenia. Saakashvili has implicitly promised to cut the tariffs since taking office. The issue was high on the agenda of his official visit to Yerevan last month, but no specific agreements were announced.
“The Georgian authorities treat our request to consider tariff cuts with understanding, and I think that we will discuss it again,” he said before a meeting with Zhvania.
Zhvania was earlier presented with an Armenian government document purporting to prove that such a measure would benefit both neighboring states.