By Hrach MelkumianGermany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer urged the Armenian authorities to step up political reform and expressed concern at the continuing functioning of the Metsamor nuclear plant during a brief visit to Yerevan on Thursday.
Fischer, who is touring the three South Caucasus states, held talks with President Robert Kocharian and laid a wreath at the Armenian Genocide memorial during his several hours in the Armenian capital. He said he discussed with Kocharian the “very good” ties between Germany and Armenia as well as regional problems like the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Speaking at a short news conference, Fischer indicated that the tense political situation in Armenia was also on the agenda of the talks. “I told the president that we also hope that internal political problems that exist in Armenia will be resolved in a peaceful way,” he said.
“We hope that democracy as well as freedom of speech and media will grow stronger here and that all of that will help Armenia to quicker meet the standards of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and Western Europe in general,” he added without elaborating.
The German minister also raised the issue of the Metsamor plant’s future during the meeting with Kocharian, reiterating the European Union’s concerns about the safety of its Soviet-era nuclear reactor. “We are very worried about the fact that the Metsamor plant’s second unit has still not been decommissioned and we hope that here too it will be possible to achieve a certain solution,” he said.
The EU, of which Germany is a leading member, has long been pushing for the closure of the plant which meets nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s energy needs. Official Yerevan has so far resisted the pressure, saying that Metsamor will remain operational for at least another decade.
Fischer is the leader of Germany’s Green Party, a junior partner in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s coalition government. The party was instrumental in the German cabinet’s decision several years ago to gradually shut down all German nuclear power stations.
Kocharian’s press office mentioned neither the Armenian political crisis nor the Metsamor issue in its written statement on the meeting. It said instead that Kocharian briefed Fischer on the current status of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and the Turkish-Armenian relations. He reiterated in particular that Yerevan is ready to ease tensions with Ankara without any “preconditions.”
Speaking about the Karabakh conflict, Fischer said Germany stands ready to facilitate its peaceful resolution but stressed that the onus is primarily on Armenia and Azerbaijan to achieve it. “We and our international partners will do everything we can to resolve this conflict. But the main burden of a settlement is on the two countries,” he said.