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Yerevan, Armenia (UPI) Dec 2, 2012
A simplified visa regime between Armenia and the European Union will be implemented soon, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last weekend.
Barroso said following a Saturday meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Yerevan that visa facilitation and readmission agreements with the European Union would be finalized this month.
They would come into force by mid-2013 in a move designed to strengthen Armenia's economic ties to Europe even as it remains deadlocked in a semi-frozen conflict with Azerbaijan.
"After constructive -- and should I say quick -- negotiations, we will be able to sign the visa facilitation agreement on December 17th, followed at a later date by the signature of the readmission agreement," Barroso said.
"Our long-term goal is clear and we will work for it -- we want visa-free travel," the EU leader declared.
Negotiations on the visa liberalization began in February. Under the facilitation of movement reforms, lower visa fees for all Armenian citizens would be implemented and waivers would be issued in certain categories, such as family members and pensioners.
A maximum processing time of 10 calendar days would be instituted, as well as simplified supporting document requirements and wider issuances of multiple-entry visas for business travelers.
The new readmission agreement, meanwhile, provides for reciprocal obligations on both sides to readmit their nationals as well as certain third-country nationals who are in "irregular situations" on the territory of the other party.
The European Union last year launched a "mobility partnership" with Armenia -- a non-legally binding framework for managing movements of people between the country and 10 EU member states, including Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Sweden.
Barroso also said he was optimistic of completing an economic association agreement, including a "deep and comprehensive free trade" deal, with Armenia in time for the European Union's November 2013 Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius.
"Once completed, these negotiations will further strengthen Armenia's European perspective," he asserted.
But the EU leader also cautioned Armenia's decades-old conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed ethnic enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh must be resolved peacefully if it is to take advantage of its deeper ties with Europe.
"We believe that only through a stable neighborhood and good relations amongst the countries in the region will be possible for Armenia to fully tap the potential of the country and also of its association agenda with the European Union," he said.
Barroso recommitted the European Union to the peace process facilitated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its Minsk Group, comprised of the United States, France and Russia.
The talks have remained stalled following Baku's August pardoning of Azerbaijani military officer Ramil Safarov, who had been convicted of killing of Armenian serviceman Gurgen Markaryan in Hungary eight years ago.
The Azeri courts issued a pardon for Safarov after he was extradited from Hungary, where he had been sentenced to life in prison. He was greeted by Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev as a national hero and promoted to major after the extradition.
That move upset Armenia and brought condemnation from the United Nations. Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in September Safarov's attack on Markaryan was clearly ethnically motivated.
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