Saakashvili hopes for greater integration on eve of Armenian visit

Georgian leader hopes for greater integration on eve of Armenian visit

Azg, Yerevan
12 Mar 04

Georgia is pursuing bilateral integration with Armenia and Azerbaijan
respectively, as a way to integrate all three countries, Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili has said. Interviewed by an Armenian
newspaper on the eve of his visit to Yerevan, Saakashvili advocated
freedom of movement across borders and the removal of customs
barriers. Describing the emotional tenor of relations as important, he
said that he hoped to learn as much as possible from President Robert
Kocharyan. Saakashvili said that he would take “daring” steps to
reopen the rail link through Abkhazia. He also said that Georgia was
ready to help establish relations between Armenia and Turkey. The
following is the text of Tatul Akopyan and Agavni Arutyunyan’s
interview with Saakashvili, as published in Armenian newspaper Azg on
12 March and headlined “I expect fair and natural talks with my
Armenian counterpart. Mikheil Saakashvili’s exclusive interview with
Azg and Armenian TV’s second channel”; subheadings inserted

Yesterday at a little past eight in the evening Azg reporters Tatul
Akopyan and Agavni Arutyunyan sat down for a conversation with the new
president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, in Tbilisi, an exclusive
opportunity to hear the views of our neighbouring country’s leading
figure on issues of mutual concern on the very eve of his visit to
Armenia. (Saakashvili arrives in Yerevan today, 12 March, on a two-day
official visit at the invitation of his Armenian counterpart, Robert
Kocharyan.) Greeting the Armenian journalists, Saakashvili said the

[Mikheil Saakashvili] I always talk to Armenian reporters with
pleasure. It is as precious for me as to talk to local reporters. I
think that these obstacles are unnecessary, Armenia is not a foreign
land, but a part of our region, our close neighbour, our friend,
that’s why every word uttered in Armenia finds its response in Georgia

Georgia wants common legal system with Azerbaijan, Armenia

[Azg correspondent] Mr President, what are Georgia’s political and
economic priorities as regards Armenia?

[Saakashvili] Everything is very simple. Armenia is our friend, our
neighbour, a brotherly state. And there is no need to talk about
certain pragmatic priorities. Our relations should first of all come
from the heart. If they don’t come from the heart, there can’t be a
big friendship. I keep reiterating that we are Caucasians and the
Caucasus is a single whole. We should adopt the path of political and
economic integration of the South Caucasus. Naturally it is not
working out for all three countries at this stage, because of past
conflicts, that is why it is necessary to choose a bilateral
integration path. It is the way both for Armenia and Georgia, and for
Azerbaijan and Georgia. In this way we can achieve a point where our
people will live better. What does integration mean? It is the
exemption of all customs obstacles, setting common tariffs, reducing
them and in certain cases cancelling them fully. Integration is also
the freedom of people’s movement. The people do move (from one country
to another), but they are stopped at the borders. It is funny that
people have to wait 40-60 minutes at the border to cross from Armenia
to Georgia. It is unacceptable, not serious; it is a leftover of a
feudalistic regime. We need the free transit of both people and
goods. For this we need a common legal system. I mean that a person
who is registered as a Georgian [citizen] should have the same status
in Armenia, and vice versa. Any Armenian juridical person should not
need to pass all kinds of legal red tape or registration [in
Georgia]. I think when these obstacles are dealt with, we will have a
totally different situation.

Today each one of our countries, taken separately, is weak, for the
market needs expansion, a larger space. Moreover, as regards relations
with Europe, the USA and Russia, it’s better for us to have a joint
and (consequently) stronger position. I am confident that this is not
a Utopia, I have concrete deadlines, and in a year and half to two
years we will achieve results similar to those of Europe.

Georgia and Armenia should share experience

[Correspondent] Mr Saakashvili, you earlier stated that you intend to
break the formal barrier of relations between Georgia and Armenia
during Shevardnadze’s reign. What steps exactly does Georgia expect
Armenia to undertake, and what can promote the escalation and
expansion of bilateral ties?

[Saakashvili] Before it was like this: as far as we promoted friendly
relations with Azerbaijan and had many economic and political ties, we
were to have friendly relations with Armenia as well, but only because
we had good relations with Azerbaijan. It is absurd. We do have
friendly relations with Azerbaijan, and will have friendly ties with
Armenia, too. This is not just an “obligation”, but because Armenia is
a close neighbour, a country with which we have past and current ties,
common history, cultural and human relations. Besides, Armenia is a
country that has the largest recognition among the countries of this
region. Naturally, the other countries of the region are also known,
but still, Armenia maintains its attraction, and has a long history of
friendship and integration with the West and Russia. This experience
should be used for the benefit of the entire region. So, what I expect
from Armenia: firstly I hope we will unify our economic and legal
systems. Second, we should foster contacts between our nations’
representatives on the level of associations, cultural unions and
educational institutions.

This may be viewed as a lyrical detail, but I attach great importance
to the emotional degree of our relations. I want us to share our
experience. For instance, we are now trying to regulate ties with
Russia, and in this respect Armenia can seriously help us, for it has
close and friendly relations with Russia. I am eager to learn many
things on my visit to Armenia, so it is not only a visit to become a
friend of Mr Kocharyan. I can learn from him and practise whatever is
possible to practise. I would want to visit Armenia not for two days,
but for a couple of weeks. But presidency is like a prison, the
timetable is very tense and you have to absorb everything like a
sponge. Therefore, the fact-finding aspect of every visit is very
important to me. I am to meet different people in Armenia, and this is
a heartfelt visit for me, and you know that the heart has emotions,
there is no mere pragmatism here.

More integration into Georgia for region with ethnic Armenian

[Correspondent] The former Georgian ambassador to Armenia, Nikoloz
Nikolozishvili, was recently appointed your authorized representative
in Samtskhe-Javakheti Region [a part of Georgia with a mainly ethnic
Armenian population]. Nikolozishvili talked about the social and
economic problems in the region at a recent meeting with President
Kocharyan. What actual steps will be taken in this direction?

[Saakashvili] This issue is important to me, for first of all the
ex-ambassador loves Armenia. He has not been a mere ambassador. He is
in love with Armenian culture, and speaks Armenian. Secondly, this
region is in a difficult, social situation, not because it is
populated with Armenians, but because the whole of Georgia is in a
poor situation. Moreover, the region “boasts” a difficult climate, as
well as some serious problems. A major problem is the roads. One of my
major tasks is going to be building normal roads in Akhalkalaki, so
that the region integrates into Georgia’s economic life. Also we will
ensure that red tape and other bureaucratic mechanisms are cut at the
root there, so that all problems are solved quickly. And we shall set
up local programmes for social and economic development. The main
employer in Akhalkalaki is the Russian military base. But this is
temporary, and not normal. At present we are discussing with European
and other agencies ways of setting up agricultural and industrial
enterprises that will be financed by European money, and will be able
to pay for themselves in two to four years. Armenians are talented
people and they will succeed if they are given the minimum conditions.

Saakashvili to be “daring” in reopening Abkhaz railway

[Correspondent] Mr Saakashvili, the importance of the Abkhaz railway
for Armenia is apparent. How do you see integration when the railway
does not function?

[Saakashvili] This is an important issue for me. And this concerns not
only Armenia, but Georgia as well. Here everything depends upon the
progress reported in Gali District. We have set up a trilateral
commission together with the Russian and Abkhaz de facto
authorities. This commission now works, and its initial concern is the
economic infrastructure. Russia displays eagerness. I believe there
are many Abkhaz who realize the importance of economic
infrastructure. At this stage we need good will, of which we have more
than enough. The deadlock concerns not only Armenia, but Georgia,
too. I am going to take daring steps to open the railway.

[Correspondent] What do you mean by “daring steps”?

[Saakashvili] The former Georgian authorities said that as long as
Abkhazia’s status is undecided, we should not start economic
relations. I am of a different opinion: I think that this is a
parallel process. One should start with economic cooperation, but not
vice versa.

Georgia ready to help advance Turkish-Armenian relations

[Correspondent] Mr Saakashvili, what role can Georgia possibly play in
Turkish-Armenian relations?

[Saakashvili] Georgia is ready to have the utmost participation in
constructive relations between Armenia and Turkey. I am of the opinion
that Turkey is more than ready for this. Of course, Turkey has close
partner relations with Azerbaijan. This fact is worth considering, we
should also see that Turkey well realizes the need to develop ties
with Armenia to achieve peace in the region. For this purpose we will
be glad to assist. It is very important to us, it is a factor of
stability and development for Georgia. Turkey has played a positive
role in Georgia up to now. I think whatever Armenia can do to help us
in our relations with Russia, Georgia is able to do as regards
Turkish-Armenian contacts.