Nikol Pashinyan, Charles Michel make statements to summarize the results of their talks
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Following their meeting, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and European Council President Charles Michel made statements to the media, in which they summarized the results of their talks and answered journalists’ questions.
Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: Honorable Mr. President, dear Charles,
Dear media representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to once again welcome the President of the European Council Charles Michel, who has arrived in Armenia on a working visit. During our productive and constructive talks we exchanged views on the ongoing extensive interaction between Armenia and the European Union, our joint programs, as well as on a broad range of issues related to the furtherance EU-Armenia relations.
This is the second meeting I have had with Mr. Michel in the last month and a half. I would like to underscore that the contacts between Armenia and the European Union have never been so extensive, which indeed testifies to our reciprocated commitment to developing relations.
The discussion focused on our present and future plans. From this perspective, the importance of providing conditions necessary for successful implementation of joint programs was emphasized on both sides. We next referred to the challenges that we had to face last year; I mean the global pandemic, Azerbaijan’s large-scale offensive against Artsakh launched on September 27, 2020, and its aftermath. In this context, I would like to express special gratitude to President Michel for his personal efforts to combat the new type of coronavirus, to mitigate its impact, and to assist those affected by Azerbaijan’s aggression against Artsakh, including the repatriation of Armenian POWs.
Last year’s events led to new realities in the region. I should note that the use of force and mass atrocities can in no way resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as the latter should be settled through negotiations in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship, which is the only format vested with a corresponding international mandate. In this context, I would like to refer to the April 13 statement issued by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, which calls on the parties to resume at the earliest opportunity the high-level political dialogue under the Co-Chairs’ auspices, based on well-known principles, with a view to achieving a comprehensive and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
I have repeatedly welcomed in public the statement on starting peace talks, emphasizing that Armenia is prepared to resume talks, but Azerbaijan has so far failed to respond and according to information available from unofficial sources, Azerbaijan intends to provoke new military clashes in Artsakh, on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, as evidenced by the incident at the Nakhichevan section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Azerbaijan’s provocative actions prevent us from starting work on delimitation and demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, to which I have publicly referred on several occasions, including during the electoral campaign.
During our private talks with President Michel, we prioritized the immediate repatriation of Armenian prisoners of war, hostages and other detainees held in Azerbaijan without any preconditions in accordance with the international humanitarian law and the trilateral statement of November 9, 2020.
I would like to emphasize that Azerbaijan’s failure to return the prisoners of war, hostages or other detainees is not just a unique case of its breach of the November 9 trilateral statement.
As you may know, the November 9 statement provides for the unblocking of all transport and economic infrastructure in the region. Azerbaijan keeps obstructing this process not only with blatant threats to occupy the sovereign territory of Armenia, but in spite of its standing commitments, it also refuses to provide Armenia with a corridor for the launch of the Armenia-Georgia and Azerbaijan-Russia railways.
I hereby reassure that Armenia will make consistent, constructive efforts to unblock regional communications, restore the existing communication routes, build new roads, in particular the North-South highway, and the European Union’s assistance is crucial in this respect. I would like to express our gratitude for the EU’s intention to provide up to €2.6 billion for projects to be implemented in Armenia as part the Eastern Partnership.
As you may know, seven pilot projects shall be implemented with these funds, which by the way ought to be five originally, but later the number of projects increased as the volume of financial was stepped up, to include the North-South Highway, the support of community resilience in Armenia’s southern provinces, developing small and medium-size entrepreneurship, encouraging women’s economic leadership, addressing environmental concerns by promoting a green agenda, developing innovation, science and technology, as well as building water supply networks and academic infrastructure. The aforementioned programs are of paramount importance for building infrastructure, ensuring economic growth and development in the country.
Dear Mr. President,
Notwithstanding the war and regional challenges, our country continues along the path of irreversible democratic reforms.
I would like to emphasize that the European Union is among Armenia’s key partners in bringing this ambitious reform agenda to life. Armenia is prepared to actively cooperate with the European Union and EU-member nations, focusing on the ongoing institutional reform, the enforcement of the rule of law and the strengthening of democratic institutions.
I would like to highlight in this context the importance of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. The successful completion of the ratification process and the entry into force of the latter is a landmark event in EU-Armenia relations.
We similarly appreciate the Eastern Partnership, which constitutes the core of our relations with the European Union. We are seriously preparing for the December summit and we hope it will be effective.
European Council President Charles Michel: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.
Dear Nikol, it is a pleasure for me, an honor for me to be back to your beautiful country, Armenia. I had the opportunity to pay an official visit during the Francophonie summit three years ago in my capacity of Belgian Prime Minister. And this morning, I had the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial where, as Belgium’s Prime Minister, I had planted a symbolic tree three years earlier in memory of Genocide victims.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the results of the snap elections held following the electoral process, which gives you a mandate and legitimacy to act for the sake of democratic reforms in a constructive field.
The European Union seeks to be a loyal, committed and active partner for Armenia’s prosperity, stability and security. And in this context, we had the opportunity to discuss the bilateral relations between Armenia and the European Union.
And indeed, I have to convey a strong message: we stand by Armenia, and I hereby confirm the decision of the European Union to mobilize an unprecedented financial package of 2.6 billion euros in support of Armenia’s priorities.
Mr. Prime Minister, we had the opportunity to talk about the priorities on which your teams will cooperate with the European Union to ensure that these funds are not virtual or otherwise theoretical resources, but they are translated into specific projects as soon as possible in order to support the ambitions set forth by the Armenian authorities for different sectors: infrastructure, digitization, climate-related challenges, transport communications, or the efforts to pursue and advance the agenda of democratic reforms.
Finally, we are facing a pandemic all over the world: COVID-19. As you mentioned, we have been trying to mobilize efforts from the European Union, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with Armenia. I would like to stress that the European Union is a large democratic space, which has been and will be exporting vaccines.
We have been mobilizing capacity to support the COVAX project so that all countries across the globe have broader access to vaccine technologies. We have decided, beyond what has already been done, to mobilize 100 million doses at least by this yearend to ensure that vaccine technology is accessible as widely as possible anywhere in the world, because we cannot feel safe until everyone is safe, when it comes to this COVID-19 crisis.
Another reason for my being here and more broadly in the region: tomorrow - in Azerbaijan, and Monday - in Georgia, is to demonstrate the European Union’s commitment to this region.
We want to strengthen ties between the countries of this region and the European Union, and as you mentioned above, we wish to prepare the December summit that will bring together all the countries involved in the Eastern Partnership with the exception of Belarus, which has announced the suspension of its participation in the Eastern Partnership.
In this context, it is important for me to listen to the political leaders of different countries to see how we can make the summit a success story in order to give new impetus, new strength to our efforts. Mr. Prime Minister, we wish to work with you in the coming months in order to make progress on a number of subjects.
Indeed, we have been touched by the war that struck Armenia. And we are touched by the situation of all those who have been directly affected, I mean the victims of this conflict, to whom I wish to pay tribute and express my solidarity and my sympathy.
We have had the opportunity to address a number of subjects, which will have to be tackled politically with great commitment in the coming months. I would like to reaffirm clearly and unambiguously that the European Union appreciates and supports the work done within the framework of the Minsk Group. We want to support and encourage the Minsk group to take responsibility and address various issues. And we see four topics that need to be addressed in the short, medium and long term in an effort to achieve what we all want to: security, stability and prosperity, and to be able to progress gradually so that we could deal with serious problems.
The first point is the importance of moderation, the importance of avoiding aggressive rhetoric and verbal escalation. For instance, in recent weeks we have had the opportunity to talk about the prisoners of war. Together with other partners, the European Union has been encouraging the decisions made on war prisoners and the issue of mine mapping. We hope that it will be possible to adopt responsible decisions and make progress on this important subject.
The second issue is the delimitation of borders. We hope that a dialogue and negotiations will be initiated on this issue. We feel it would be useful for there to be a withdrawal of troops in order to hold discussions.
The third point I would like to mention is the importance, in my opinion, and in our opinion, of being able to discuss cooperation projects: the issue of transport communications. There may be other sectors where regional cooperation could be useful to foster economic development, prosperity and dialogue.
And finally, the fourth point refers to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the peace negotiations. And I am also taking note with great attention of the subjects you addressed, such as the question of cultural heritage and perhaps a role that can be played by international institutions like UNESCO.
Dear Mr. Acting Prime Minister,
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you may see, we have had an in-depth discussion on a broad range of topics. I should thank the Acting Prime Minister for sincerity and cooperation. I will be in Azerbaijan tomorrow. I will have the opportunity to exchange views with the authorities of that country.
In conclusion, I would like to tell you that the European Union stands by Armenia as a loyal and constructive partner to help you deal with different challenges, but also to uphold the values we all believe in – human values and democracy, and after all, to ensure progress, prosperity, stability and security. Thank you.
Question by Anna Gziryan, Armenpress: Thank you, I address my question to Mr. Pashinyan and Mr. Michel; it refers to the chances of establishing peace in the region.
On the one hand, the President of Azerbaijan talks about peace, and on the other, we see ambitions targeting Armenia’s sovereign territory. Do you not see contradictions here? What does Europe have to do in this respect?
Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - It is simply impossible not to see a contradiction there; I referred to it in my speech today. I addressed this issue in all detail at the government meeting two days ago. I wish to emphasize that we abide by a clear-cut position as to the border situation; we are prepared to hold to a constructive position in this matter.
I made a proposal at the Security Council meeting; I mean the mirror disengagement of troops, and their return to permanent locations. Then along the border, we are now negotiating the deployment of Russian border guards and / or international observers and the demarcation of borders under international auspices.
I reiterate that Azerbaijan’s policy is that it wants to give an impression that Armenia is against peace negotiations; that Armenia is against peace in general; that Armenia is against demarcation, but the reality is completely different. In any case, during today’s meeting with Mr. Michel, I reaffirmed that we welcome and stand ready to act in accordance with the April 13 statement issued by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. In fact, here too we can say that our vision completely coincides with the international community’s approaches. A number of countries made relevant statements after May 12. For instance, the European Parliament passed a resolution on this topic, and the approaches formulated therein go in tune with our ideas.
I want to call your attention to the following fact. By taking a closer look at Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, we can see that it has territorial claims towards most of its neighbors. The issue here is not only Armenia. Now they are talking about Western Azerbaijan. Tomorrow they may come to talk about Southern Azerbaijan, etc., and so on. Perhaps, this list of Azerbaijans is not yet exhaustive, and I consider this a threat to regional security in general.
I think this is not just a matter of political rhetoric, when we study what is taught in Azerbaijan’s schools, we see that this aggressive policy towards neighbors is not only against Armenia, but also against the majority of their neighbors. Let alone the so-called Trophy Park, which hosts children to teach them that Armenia and the Armenians are their arch-enemies.
Why am I saying this? I am saying this to reaffirm our readiness to establish stability and peace in the region.
Of course, we are ready to start negotiations in accordance with the April 13 statement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, based on the “principles well-known to the parties.” And I am happy that Mr. Michel spoke about the importance of clarifying and determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, as it is the cornerstone of the settlement.
We are equally prepared to start work on the demarcation and delimitation of borders, should there be the necessary conditions, which we have talked about many times. We said that the presence of Armenian POWs in Azerbaijan, whereas the latter has made a written commitment to return everyone, undermines the atmosphere of cooperation in the region; this is an important agenda around which we must work together.
President of the European Council Charles Michel - Let me mention some points. We should avoid inflammatory rhetoric as an opportunity to address all the components and elements that need to be addressed. I just referred to those 4 elements that in my opinion need to be addressed in order to achieve more stability and security.
Tomorrow I am scheduled to meet with the President of Azerbaijan. I will try to understand what constructive and positive role the European Union can play by using its experience in support of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The history of the European Union knows of past conflicts, too. Nevertheless, serious progress has been made ever since the conflicts were resolved. It was not that easy as a matter of fact. Step by step, we managed to build this unique political program based on mutual respect and cooperation.
A key element was mentioned here, which I consider to be of paramount importance. I mean the promotion of regional cooperation. I know there are plans to re-commission the railway communications. This can be a platform for developing a dialogue. I am far from underestimating the problems, but we need to show political will. This does not mean at all that all issues can be tackled in one day, of course, it will take time, difficulties may arise over time, but we first need to try to build a sound atmosphere of cooperation, try to understand different opinions and eventually find solutions.
Question by Sargis Harutyunyan, RFE / RL: I address my question to the Prime Minister of Armenia and to the President of the European Council.
You mentioned that the European Union will provide support of 2.6 billion euros, though you did not elaborate on the proposed directions. I would appreciate if you could give more details of those areas where the programs might ultimately contribute to Armenia’s economic and institutional development.
Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - The first direction is to support small and medium-sized businesses with a focus on innovation. In other words, we will not just support, but will promote modernization, reorganization and compliance with international standards.
As I have already mentioned, I am eager to encourage women’s economic activity and leadership, and I want to call your attention to the following: I have talked about this topic before, women constitute a demographic majority in our country, and it is important to ensure that women’s economic potential is fully integrated in the economic development of the country.
The next area that I am very interested in is the strengthening of community resilience in the southern regions. We are planning to implement projects worth 80 million euros covering infrastructure, including agricultural infrastructure. We raised key issues during the electoral campaign: drinking water supply, access to pastures, infrastructure. We do believe that the southern regions have great development potential in the field of tourism, in particular, which needs to be tapped.
The next is the North-South Highway, which again is basically associated with the southern and northern regions. We will soon announce a tender for the Sisian-Agarak section, where there are tunnels and bridges; moreover, it will be an unprecedented construction. And here the European Union is prepared to support with about 600 million euros, which is essential.
Science, research, technology and digitalization constitute the next vector. And we are thinking of funneling part of resources to education as well. The programs are not fully agreed with the European Union. That is, we are discussing the vector directions for the time being. You may know that we have serious plans in the field of education in terms of construction of schools and kindergartens. We are similarly working on reservoir construction projects.
It is important that a standalone package of reforms is envisaged for Yerevan - the Green Yerevan, the smart city in terms of traffic management, as well as the development of the metro, where the European Union has played a significant role, and we will continue to cooperate in the aforementioned areas. Now we are at the next stage. We are doing extensive work after the decision made by the European Union. In fact, we have already prepared a draft roadmap; we are convinced that we must advance those programs through active communication.
Yes, we must implement 2.6 billion euro-worth programs over the next 4-5 years, which will give a strong impetus to Armenia’s economic development.
President of the European Council Charles Michel - I completely agree with what the Prime Minister said, I would like to say a few things. First of all, in my opinion, this offers Armenia unique opportunities. This is a sizeable financial package; clear-cut priorities are set, and I would like to emphasize one or two pf them. We believe that we face the challenge of climate change every day in the world, but at the same time, it can rove to be an exciting leverage to support economic development, enable the private sector to become viable and attractive in line with EU priorities.
We are engaged in an extensive dialogue with the Armenian authorities, I do not underestimate the large-scale work that may be required to carry out all this. We guarantee that the proposed financial package will trigger tangible results for SMEs and citizens as well, creating added value.
And lastly, we need to implement democratic reforms to ensure the consolidation of democratic institutions. This is the best condition that guarantees prosperity. I am optimistic about the strong signals we are sending to Armenia. This is a signal of confidence in the future that we will work together, closely, to implement all this, to ensure that the people and citizens of Armenia feel the positive impact from these programs.