Foreign Minister Tuomioja to South Caucasus
Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja will visit Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia on 2-4 April.
The purpose of the trip is to express Finnish support to the social reforms in the countries of South Caucasus, discuss possibilities for settling the lingering conflicts, hear out the countries' views about the situation in the wider region as well as seek endorsement for Finnish candidature for the UN Security Council term 2013-14. Moreover, Finland's activities and objectives in peace mediation will be promoted.
In addition to political leaders of each country, Minister Tuomioja will meet representatives of the opposition and non-governmental organisations.
The visits take place in an interesting and important phase in the development of internal policy in the South Caucasian countries. Armenia has scheduled a parliamentary election in May and Georgia in October, and each of the three countries will hold presidential election in 2013. The elections will be a test to the fledgling democracies of the South Caucasus, and expectations of the international community are high.
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia belong to the Eastern Partnership of the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy. The Partnership aims at bringing the countries closer to the European Union. Finland encourages Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to fully embrace the partnership programmes and offers advice in renewing administration. In the process, Finland promotes respect for shared values and easier cross-border travel.
As far as mediation processes of the regional long-term conflicts are concerned, Finland will encourage the countries to find new, practical approaches. Both the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the 2008 war in Georgia are delaying the development in the South Caucasian countries and contribute to instability in the EU neighbourhood. The EU co-chairs the Geneva Talks on the conflicts in Georgia with OSCE and the UN. (The UN representative in the Talks is Ambassador Antti Turunen.) Finland is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group seeking a solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The trip offers an opportunity to gain insights on the situation in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia as well as learn how the countries see the development in the neighbouring countries and regions. Neighbourhood with Iran, Turkey and Russia, the situation in the Middle East and the hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea are, in many ways, key factors to the development opportunities in the South Caucasus.
Bilateral relations between Finland and the South Caucasian countries are good but weak, and bilateral trade is scarce for the present. Finland is implementing regional cooperation projects in South Caucasus within the framework of the Wider Europe Initiative. The projects focus on security and sustainability.
On 2 April, in Azerbaijan, Minister Tuomioja will meet with President Ilham Aliyev, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Oktay Asadov, the Speaker of the parliament Milli Maclis. Besides the internal situation in Azerbaijan and cooperation with the EU, Finland is interested in Azerbaijan's key focuses as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2012-2013. Minister Tuomioja will speak at the seminar titled Conflict, Resolution and Reconciliation in the Contemporary World organised in Baku by the Aleksanteri Institute and the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
In Georgia, on 3 April, the Minister's agenda includes meetings with Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze and Minister of Reintegration Eka Tkeshelashvili. Convergence between the EU and Georgia is a central objective in Georgia's foreign policy, and the negotiations for a treaty are moving fast.
In Armenia, on 4 April, Minister Tuomioja will meet with President Serzh Sarkissian, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan, Speaker of the Parliament Samvel Nikoyan and important party factions. The visit will take place in the middle of election campaigns; the Election Day is on 6 May. The agenda also includes visit to the Diplomatic Academy of Armenia, where Minister Tuomioja will give a speech on Finnish peace mediation activities.
Further information: First Secretary Leena Liski, tel. +358 40 158 5520, Advisor to the Minister Veikko Kiljunen, tel. +358 40 351 9526, Press Attaché to the Minister Susanna Parkkonen, tel. +358 50 377 5601