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Sept 26 2005

President Tarja Halonen will visit three South Caucasian countries - Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, all of which have had fairly little official contacts with Finland.

Tarja Halonen has visited Armenia and Azerbaijan as Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1996, when Finland was actively involved in seeking a solution to the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh.

Halonen's visit this week will be the first by a Finnish head of state to the countries since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to their independence.

Armenia has had to examine its official protocol arrangements more than usual, as Halonen will be the first woman president ever to visit the country.

In addition to opening high-level contacts between the countries and Finland, a key purpose of the visit is to acquire fresh information on the situation in the countries, and on crisis areas, with respect to Finland's turn at the rotating EU Presidency in the second half of next year.

President Halonen's host in Armenia will be President Robert Kocharian.

Halonen will be granted an honorary doctorate in the Armenian capital Yerevan, and she will also meet the leader of the Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholicos Garegin II.

Office of The President of Finland

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Tarja Halonen at Yerevan State University on 27 September 2005

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to speak to all of you today after having received an honorary doctorate from Yerevan State University.

I am especially glad to be here for several reasons. Firstly, this is my second visit to Armenia. The first was in 1996, when I was Minister for Foreign Affairs. That visit was linked to negotiations conducted by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group seeking a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict - Finland and Russia - with leaders in the region. On that occasion I had the opportunity to visit Yerevan and Baku and to meet Southern Caucasian political leadership.

Unfortunately the Minsk Group still faces a tough job to settle the conflict, under the leadership of France, Russia and the United States. I talked about this today with President Kocharian and hoped that the parties would continue bilateral contacts and talks within the framework of the Minsk Group in order to make swift progress. This is important for the region's residents and refugees, who have not been able to return to their homes. Resolving this problem is also important for the stability of the entire region, to attract new investments to the region and help building new prosperity for it.

The second reason I am glad is that I am happy to be here as a President. This is the very first official visit by the President of the Republic of Finland to the three independent republics in the southern Caucasus. This is part of the stepped-up exchange of visits in recent years, I noted this already when Foreign Minister Oskanyan came to Finland last May. Cooperation between Armenian and Finnish churches and in the cultural field has also intensified in recent years. It is in Finland's interests to nurture and develop commercial, scientific and cultural cooperation between our nations.

I hope also that my visit will encourage you to continue your efforts to promote democracy and human rights. The equality between men and women is typical for Nordic countries. It has been fair for citizens and strengthened us in the competition of the globalized world.

The autonomous status of the Swedish speaking Åland Islands as part of Finland has often attracted foreign observers' interest as an example of the successful resolution of a dispute between two neighbouring countries. Only a couple of weeks ago I sent greetings to a project arranged at the Åland Islands Peace Institute that included non-governmental organizations, journalists and researchers from the countries in the southern Caucasus. I hope that their experiences can influence the settling of the Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts. Finland does not want to force any model on anyone but hopes that regional leaders will accept new ideas with an open mind and apply them creatively and constructively within the framework of local conditions.

Speaking at this university recalls the significance of scientific research as part of a national success strategy. In today's world the success of a nation depends on different types of resources - economic, environmental, human and social - and the connection between them. Increasing resources in all these areas creates the preconditions for prosperity.

In developed societies raw materials are no longer the only important factor in economic growth, but the essential thing is what is built on top of them. Finland's development from a supplier of pulp and other basic forest products, to become a leading producer of mobile phones and other products of modern hich tech as well took place as a result of decades of investment in science and research. Finland's experience can also have significance for a country like Armenia, where higher education has long traditions and the population is well educated.

The Lisbon Strategy which aims at making the European Union the most competitive area in the world, strongly recognizes education as a promoter of economic and social development. The EU has adopted a detailed work programme known as "Education and Training 2010", which is aimed at making Europe a world leader in terms of the quality of its education and training by 2010.

Finns are used to the idea that our country can only succeed in the world through its expertise. I am happy to say that the Finnish education system has also ranked high in many respects in international surveys.

As a member of the EU, Finland has been involved in actively developing the Union's contacts with the republics of the southern Caucasus in recent years. This is especially topical and important because Finland will hold the presidency of the EU during the second half of next year.

In the past two years the EU's Special Representative, Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, has also become a well-known name in Yerevan. I am glad that the expertise and experience of a retired Finnish diplomat has been put to use in developing a dialogue between the Union and the southern Caucasus. Resolving regional conflicts is vitally important for the EU. This work is promoted by the Special Representative's activities and the Union's broad aid and technical cooperation.

Another key objective in the EU's southern Caucasus policy is to promote regional cooperation. When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs I also chaired the first meeting of the EU-Armenia Cooperation Council in 1999. At that time we made promoting regional cooperation in the southern Caucasus a key theme. I am glad that the practice of holding cooperation meetings among the three countries in the region has become an annual tradition. I hope that these will not remain routine meetings but will lead to practical cooperation.

As a result of enlargement the European Union has had to consider ways to prevent the formation of new dividing lines in Europe. For this purpose the EU last year began implementing the European Neighbourhood Policy. The goal of this policy is to promote stability, security and well-being in neighbouring countries. In the future these countries will have an opportunity to participate as privileged partners in Union programmes through political, security, economic and cultural cooperation.

I hope that negotiations between the EU and Armenia for an action plan under the European Neighbourhood Policy can start as soon as possible. The EU has prepared its own proposal and Armenia has published its priorities. These documents form a good basis on which to proceed.

I hope that through my visit bilateral relations between Finland and Armenia will receive a new boost, since the possibilities for cooperation are extensive. We must work together to turn new ideas into feasible projects.