GEORGIAN, ARMENIAN PRESIDENTS PRAISE BILATERAL RELATIONS, NOTE REGIONAL
ISSUES

Georgian State Television Channel 1, Tbilisi
22 Oct 04

Meeting in Tbilisi, the Georgian and Armenian presidents, Mikheil
Saakashvili and Robert Kocharyan, have discussed bilateral and
regional relations. Speaking at a joint news briefing there on 22
October, which was broadcast live by Georgian State TV, Saakashvili
said that Georgia, in the wake of the closure of the Georgian-Russian
border at Verkhniy Lars, should also be able to export to countries
other than Russia. Kocharyan urged a "pragmatic" solution to the issue
of railway traffic through Abkhazia. The two presidents also noted
that they would welcome "concrete" proposals and "real content" in the
European Union's new neighbourhood initiative. The following is an
excerpt from the report on the joint briefing; subheadings have been
inserted editorially:

(Presenter) A joint news briefing by the Georgian and Armenian
presidents has just started at the State Chancellery. We are about to
join the briefing live.

Good Georgian-Armenian relations

(Saakashvili, briefing in progress; all questions and answers in
Russian unless otherwise indicated) For us it was easier to travel to
the border (with Armenia, where the two presidents met today) than to
the airport. Sometimes we forget about distances.

I think that we had a very good meeting. We have a common
understanding on nearly the entire range of issues. We always come to
each other's aid and this is very important. For example, since the
recent acts of sabotage against our main electricity transmission
lines we have been importing most of electricity from Armenia. Armenia
responded to our request very promptly and started to export
electricity to Georgia. We would like to simplify customs and border
procedures. (Passage omitted)

(Kocharyan) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen: First and foremost, I
would like to thank you for the invitation to visit Georgia. While
this is not my first visit to Georgia, every visit is extremely
important given the wide-ranging agenda of our relations. It is
becoming wider with every passing year.

We discussed very specific issues to do with our relations, and
focused primarily on economic, transport and energy issues. We also
talked about the harmonization of our laws, relations between the
customs departments, police bodies and other matters. (Passage
omitted)

Turkey constructive player in region

(Question) Armenian news agency Mediamax. Mr Saakashvili, you said in
Yerevan last March that you would discuss the prospects for the
restoration of rail traffic between Kars (Turkey) and Gyumri (Armenia)
during your planned visit to Turkey. This, naturally, would benefit
Georgia as well. However, there has been a lot of discussion recently
about the prospects for building a railway to link Kars and
Akhalkalaki (Georgia). Should we assume that the Turkish leadership is
refusing, at least at this stage, to discuss the prospects for the
restoration of a Kars-Gyumri service?

(Saakashvili) Our approach, not only towards Armenia but also to all
other international talks, including the talks in Turkey, has been
absolutely clear. We are for the opening of more communications, more
roads, more border checkpoints, because traditionally Georgia has been
at the crossroads of transport corridors, various cultures, various
trade routes and, what is very important, various human
contacts. Naturally, we do not welcome any restrictions.

Unfortunately, not everything is up to Georgia. Of course, there are
complex regional problems. I am sure that the Turkish leadership is
very constructive. This was my impression after all my talks with
Prime Minister (of Turkey Recep) Erdogan. They are firmly on the road
towards integration with the EU. Our experience of relations with them
has been exclusively positive. I have never heard them making any
aggressive statements about any one of the issues concerning their
neighbours. I think that the process of regional cooperation and the
opening of new roads are inevitable and we will have even more
opportunities to solve the problems that exist.

Naturally, there are historical problems, there are problems which
have accumulated in the region over recent times, but I think that
there is a trend towards their resolution, not the emergence of new
problems or the preservation of status quo. In this respect, Georgia
is ready to play a positive role everywhere, at all levels, at all
forums, both multilateral and bilateral. This is what I can say.

Georgians should also export to countries other than Russia

(Question) Rustavi-2 TV. I have a question to both Mr Saakashvili and
Mr Kocharyan. The question concerns the Larsi section (Verkhniy Lars
checkpoint on the Georgian-Russian border), which has been closed for
quite some time. This is creating problems for both Georgians and
Armenians.

Did you discuss the issue today? In your view, how can this problem be
resolved? And was it a mere coincidence that Russia reopened the
border today?

Robert Sedrakovich (Kocharyan), we know that you spoke to Russian
President Vladimir Putin yesterday. Did you touch on this issue? Thank
you.

(Kocharyan) Sometimes there are pleasant coincidences which may not
have happened by chance. I think that the opening of this road means
that the tension in North Ossetia, caused by the Beslan events, has
subsided. I think that this step (the closure of the border) was a
result of the tension in North Ossetia.

(Saakashvili) I think this did not happen by chance. I think that
today's visit by the president of Armenia and our meeting coincided
with the opening of this road. (Sentence as heard)

At the same time, we must know that (changes tack) - of course we want
Russia to resolve all its problems concerning the North
Caucasus. However, the Georgian exporters, as well as all the others,
must diversify their markets. (Switches to Georgian)

Our side of the border will open in half an hour and traffic in the
direction of Russia will resume. However, everyone should remember the
lesson we have learnt in recent months. We must realize that should
problems of this sort arise, all Georgian exporters, all Georgian
businesses should be ready to search for alternative markets, with the
state's help. Of course, we should also preserve the Russian market,
as we cannot be dependant on only one market forever.

Our independence, our freedom, our independent course and our
wellbeing require that we, together with our friends, learn to work on
all other markets, while maintaining good relations with
Russia. (Passage omitted: repeats the same in Russian; Kocharyan says
all parties have suffered because of the closure)

(Kocharyan) One may see something bad behind this fact (border
closure), but one may also try to find an explanation in the present
situation, the present concerns which I have mentioned. I am inclined
not to dramatise the situation and I would not like to see this sort
of thing happen again. I want roads to operate in a normal way. The
more roads there are, the better. If there was a Turkish road across
the Armenian border, everything in the region would have been
excellent.

Georgia to build new road to Javakheti region

(Question) Armen Akopyan, correspondent of the (Armenian) newspaper
Ayots Ashkhar. I have a question to Mr Saakashvili. Mr President, it
is well known that many Armenians live in Georgia, especially in
Javakhk (predominantly Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda
districts in Georgia's Samtskhe-Javakheti Region). It is also well
known there are difficult economic conditions in this region: shortage
of jobs, damaged highways. Does the Georgian leadership have a
programme for the economic and social development of Javakheti? By the
way, when are you going to visit this region?

(Saakashvili) First of all, I am indeed indebted to the population of
Javakheti who provided great support to me in the (January 2004)
presidential election. My wife has already been there seven or eight
times, but unfortunately I have not been able to go there. However, I
am going to pay a good visit. I do not want to go anywhere with empty
hands. We have been talking to donors, to the countries which have
been supporting us, and I think that we will be able to obtain money
for building a new road to Akhalkalaki. This is very important for us,
both economically and politically. We already have enough money from
the World Bank to build half of this road, and its construction is set
to begin next year. As regards the other half, we have got several
concrete promises. I think that this road should be built within the
next two years, so that the population gets access to all markets and
the region is integrated economically.

It is also very important for us that the region should maintain close
ties with border areas of Armenia and with Armenia in general, but, at
the same time, the region should be economically successful in
relation to the whole country (Georgia), and the road is the key to
this. This is one of the priorities of my presidential term. I think
that our citizens who live in Javakheti are very talented people, very
interesting people in their attitude towards business and
entrepreneurship. I would like to say that many of them work in Russia
on various construction sites where especially skilled workers are
required. We would like these people to work in Georgia. We would like
to see local businesses (of Javakheti) to expand throughout
Georgia. We would like these people to take part in various regional
projects. However, the journey from there to Tbilisi is three times
longer than it should be. This is absolutely inappropriate, of
course. Once again, I would like to note that despite its isolation
and unfavourable climate, local people there have still managed to
build good hotels, good shops, a good network of cafes, and they are
managing well. I do not think that this is an achievement of the
Georgian government, I think that this is an achievement of their
talent. If we open our doors for this talent to reach the whole
country and international projects, I think that not only this
population but also the whole of Georgia will have many good
prospects. (Passage omitted)

No disagreements in border demarcation work

(Question) Armenian newspaper Azg, this is a question to both
presidents. When will the process of demarcation of the
Georgian-Armenian border begin? Have you discussed this issue? Could
this issue lead to some disputes, so to speak, between Georgia and
Armenia? Thank you.

(Kocharyan) It is better to ask when this work will be finished, not
when it will begin. There was agreement in principle and we should
have finished the work this year. There have been changes on the
Georgian side of this commission. The Georgian representative was sent
to Poland as ambassador, if I am not mistaken, and a new person will
be appointed. I think we will work in a normal manner and we will be
able to finish this work next year. So far, there have been no painful
issues in the commission's work which could lead to serious
disagreements. It is possible to resolve these issues in a normal,
calm and working atmosphere.

(Saakashvili) For the past two thousand years, Armenia and Georgia
have had no territorial claims against each other (smiles), and I
think this will remain as it has been.

Cooperation with Baltic states and Europe in general

(Question) Malkhaz Oniani, Channel One of Georgian Television. Mr
President Kocharyan, do you share the Georgian president's initiative
about a three-plus-three format regarding cooperation between the
Baltic and South Caucasus countries? And my second question is this:
Have you discussed the issue of reopening railway traffic between
Armenia and Russia through Abkhazia? Thank you.

(Kocharyan) As regards the first part of your question, we began
discussion of our coordinated activities within the framework of the
European Union's new initiative about new neighbourhood. We agreed to
continue this discussion tomorrow because it requires some
brainstorming. This policy has been declared, but it has not been
formulated what it means specifically. Right now, the process of
formulating this concept is under way. We should be able to play a
certain role in this too. I think that the concept of the new
neighbourhood should be fully fledged, it should not be just a
declaration about new neighbours, there should be some real content.

As regards the three-plus-three idea, if I'm not mistaken it was
declared in the same context - that the Baltic republics could act as
lobbyists in the formulation of this concept of new neighbours. We are
ready to cooperate with them. We will continue the discussion of this
issue with the president of Georgia today and tomorrow. However, I am
not sure that the three Baltic republics themselves have reached a
consensus in this respect. Two years ago, there was no full agreement
there, among them.

(Saakashvili) We talked about this issue. This issue is about regional
cooperation. We are not talking about some radical political platform
or a formal international organization, but I think the South Caucasus
countries will reach an agreement on this issue, and Robert
Sedrakovich (Kocharyan) has confirmed this. As regards agreement among
the Baltic countries, Lithuania has assured us that they have already
reached agreement. So, we have made steps forward. We are interested
in concrete issues. We are members of the European Union's new
neighbourhood. What will we gain from this? What will each country
gain from this, with respect to tariffs and preferential treatment? I
want to know specifically when we will be exporting Georgian wine to
Poland. Will it be subject to three times more taxes than now? Or will
it be subject to a preferential tariff, which it should be? We will
certainly be able to agree on this if we create certain formats of
regional cooperation. Therefore, I think that the initiative was
timely. We see pragmatic aspects of this initiative for the
development of our economies. (Passage omitted)

Armenia calls for restoration of railway traffic through Abkhazia

(Kocharyan) Your second question was about railway traffic. In
general, we discussed questions related to railway traffic in the
South Caucasus. There are certain ideas in this respect, but I do not
want to talk about them now because they are only raw ideas. These are
ideas about possible cooperation of all railways, maybe cooperation in
some structural forms.

We did not discuss this (Abkhazia) section specifically, but I can
tell you what my point of view on this is, taking into account
Georgia's concerns as well. In principle, the more lines are in
operation, the better it is for all of us. As regards the Abkhazia
section specifically, this section is working between Abkhazia and
Russia. So, if it is working there, the absence of any through traffic
is simply disadvantageous for both you and us, which makes no sense.
I think that, taking into account all difficulties and all concerns, a
pragmatic attitude would be useful, although I understand that this is
complicated. This is a question for Georgia to decide.

(Saakashvili) Thank you. I think there will be more possibilities (to
ask questions) during the next few days. Thank you once again, and
special thanks to our guests.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress