By Emil Danielyan
A senior Iranian diplomat voiced on Saturday a thinly veiled criticism of Armenia’s “complementary” foreign policy, implying that Yerevan should step up security ties with Tehran instead of courting Western powers.
Mohammad Farhad Koleini, Iran’s ambassador in Yerevan, appeared to expose his country’s unease over deepening U.S.-Armenian relations as he publicly questioned Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s vision of Armenia’s national security.
Although Koleini stressed that he is expressing his personal opinion, the very fact of a foreign diplomat taking issue with Oskanian in public is quite extraordinary and could have important implications. The envoy spoke after Oskanian laid out Armenia’s foreign policy priorities to more than a hundred activists of Ramkavar Azatakan, a small pro-government party with close Diaspora links. The gathering was also attended by foreign diplomats and journalists.
Using a figurative and at times ambiguous wording, Koleini indicated that Armenia lacks the resources and international clout to continue to pursue its “complementary” policy of maintaining simultaneously good relations with the West, Russia, Iran and other major powers. “Complementarism requires both software and hardware instruments,” he said during the ensued question-and-answer session with the minister. “Armenia’s software capacity is good. But in terms of the hardware, there are problems.”
“Don’t you think that it would be more correct to describe [your policy] as a multilateral dialogue instead of complementarism?” he asked Oskanian. Koleini went on to argue that “even great powers must not have illusory approaches to their capabilities,” rebuking the Armenian leadership for pursuing what he term “globalist security.”
The remarks drew an appeasing reply from Oskanian who assured the usually cautious diplomat that Armenia will never take any steps that could harm Iran. “We will not do anything in the region infringing on the interests of neighboring countries that are strategically important to us,” he said.
Oskanian specifically emphasized that Armenia remains strongly opposed to the idea of ceding the Meghri district, which gives it a common border with Iran, with Azerbaijan as part of a possible settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He also said that Yerevan will “take into account” Iranian interests when it comes to selecting countries that will contribute troops for a future Karabakh peace-keeping force.
Koleini’s critical remarks came after Oskanian reaffirmed his government’s intention to boost security ties with the United States and other Western powers in view of the changed geopolitical situation in the world. Mentioning Armenia’s participation in the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign, the minister revealed that U.S. military planes, bound for Central Asia, have carried out more than 600 flights over Armenian territory over the past year.
Like neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia opened its air space to the U.S. military shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The United States allocated $4.3 million in military assistance to Armenia shortly afterwards. A similar amount of military aid is expected to be earmarked by Congress for the next financial year. The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Ordway, said late last month that the two sides will soon “accelerate” the implementation of their joint defense projects.
Incidentally, Ordway was apparently the first American official to have publicly voiced reservations last May about Armenia's generally cordial rapport with Iran, which President George W. Bush had accused of forming an “axis of evil” together with Iraq and North Korea. In an interview with RFE/RL, Ordway said Washington expects Yerevan's support in countering Tehran's perceived efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and undermine the Middle East peace process.
In a bomb-shell statement several days later, the U.S. State Department announced the imposition of sanction against an Armenian biochemical company accused of selling sensitive equipment to Iran. Armenian government officials were quick to try to address U.S. concerns and claim to have tightened export controls on all border crossings since then.
They are now thought to be exercising more caution in their dealings with the Iranians, something which might explain Koleini’s unusually frank comments. In an apparent reference to Bush’s recent speech at the UN General Assembly, the Iranian ambassador noted that great powers often retract their accusations directed at smaller nations and that their military presence in various parts of the world is not perpetual. Armenia, he said, should have “reliable friends” and “viable alternatives.”
In his speech, Bush made no mention of his administration’s earlier charges leveled against the Islamic Republic.