By Emil Danielyan
The United States is keen to forge close military ties with Armenia in view of the geopolitical changes in the world that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, a senior American diplomat said on Friday. The newly appointed US ambassador to Armenia, John Ordway, said military cooperation between the two countries “merits especially close attention in the next few months” as he handed his credentials to President Robert Kocharian.
“This is an area that has not kept pace with the other aspects of our relations,” Ordway said in a speech at the official ceremony in the presidential palace. He told reporters later in the day that the decision of the US Congress to effectively suspend sanctions against Azerbaijan paved the way for American military assistance to Armenia and does not threaten the balance of forces in the region.
A “conference committee” of the Senate and the House of Representatives last week approved the final version of legislation allowing President George Bush to waive Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act which bans direct US assistance to Azerbaijan. The Bush administration urged lawmakers to freeze the aid ban as a reward for Baku’s support of the US military campaign in Afghanistan.
“There will shortly be a waiver of this prohibition, which in the case of the military relationship with Armenia means that we are now free to pursue what we did not pursue before,” Ordway said.
“What we do in this area must not in any way undercut the security or the region,” the envoy continued. “It must not be disbalanced or unreasonable in comparison to the situation that now prevails in the region.”
The congressional decision stipulates that the White House can provide aid to Azerbaijan only if it is necessary for the ongoing war on terror and is not used “for aggressive purposes against Armenian communities in the Southern Caucasus.” Congress also allocated $4.3 million in military assistance to Armenia, in an effort to address concerns of the influential Armenian-American community which had engineered Section 907 nearly ten years ago.
US and Armenian officials say they have yet to discuss how the money should be used. “We are now just at the very beginning stages of the process of working with our Armenian colleagues to identify exactly what it is that they would be interested in and what it is that we have the capacity to provide,” Ordway confirmed.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which remain at loggerheads over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, have opened their airspace to US military aircraft, providing a crucial air corridor to Central Asia. Ordway praised Yerevan’s contribution to the anti-terror effort at the meeting with Kocharian. He said: “I can assure you that Armenia’s support has been noticed, and has been appreciated. I know that we can count on Armenia’s continuing assistance and cooperation in our common fight.”
Ordway, who arrived in Yerevan to assume ambassadorial duties on Wednesday, also assured Kocharian of Washington’s “very strong desire” to strengthen relations with Armenia and commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict, which he called “the greatest threat to regional stability.” “The longer this conflict remains unresolved, the greater the risks for Armenia and for the region,” the diplomat warned.
“The risks are that the conflict could erupt again in violence that would be to no one’s benefit,” he later clarified at a news conference in the US embassy.
Kocharian was quoted by his press service as saying that the ties with America are “particularly significant” for Yerevan and thanked the US government for its massive economic aid to Armenia since independence. Armenia is a major per-capita recipient of American aid, which has totalled $1.4 billion since 1992.
Ordway argued that the existence of a Armenian community in the US and the resulting “strong interest” in Armenia shown by Congress form a “very strong and stable basis” for the development of bilateral relations. He also said the two nations see a “shared interest” in peace and stability in the South Caucasus and the success of decade-long reforms in Armenia.
A graduate of Stanford University and Hastings College of Law, Ordway is a career diplomat and was the number two figure in the US embassy in Russia before being chosen by Bush to be America’s next ambassador to Armenia last June. He noted on Friday that while his diplomatic experience in Russia will be helpful in the new job it is not fully applicable to Armenia because the two countries have important differences along despite their common Soviet past.
“There is only limited relevance of experience in Russia when it comes to the other [ex-Soviet] newly independent states,” he said.