By Emil Danielyan
French President Jacques Chirac has indicated that he will urge Armenia’s leaders to implement democratic reforms and respect human rights during his upcoming landmark visit to Yerevan. He also warned that Armenia and Azerbaijan risk missing a rare opportunity to resolve their conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Since France is a friend of Armenia, she wants to assist in the process of its political modernization, she wants to help it build a rule-of-law state that guarantees public liberties,” Chirac told the French-Armenian magazine “Nouvelles d’Armenie” in an interview. “It is a message of confidence in Armenia’s ability to complete the process of ongoing political, economic and social reforms that I want to carry on the occasion of my trip to Yerevan.”
Chirac is scheduled to arrive in the Armenian capital Friday on a three-day state visit that will highlight a long-standing warm rapport between the governments of the two nations. He will become the first leader of a major Western power to set foot in the South Caucasus nation since the Soviet collapse.
Chirac and other French officials have until now refrained from publicly faulting the administration of President Robert Kocharian for its controversial conduct of elections and poor human rights record. The 73-year-old French leader was again careful not do that in the interview.
Chirac also stressed the importance of a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, endorsing the most recent peace proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group, which France heads jointly with the United States and Russia. “Today the G8 states, the international community are ready to guarantee a peace accord. What will happen tomorrow? Let us not lose this chance,” he warned.
Chirac argued that Karabakh peace would pave the way for the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. “I have repeatedly pleaded with the Turkish authorities to open the border [with Armenia,]” he said. “It is clear, however, that there is a strong link between this issue and the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and that progress towards its settlement would have a decisive impact on this issue … I believe that it is possible today.”