By Shakeh Avoyan
A high-ranking NATO military commander was in Yerevan on Tuesday to discuss final preparations for the upcoming first-ever NATO-led exercises in Armenia and broader ties with its military.
Admiral Rainer Feist, who is NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, praised the Armenian leadership’s efforts to increase cooperation with the U.S.-led alliance after talks with President Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and other officials.
Feist also visited a training facility of Armenia’s main military academy where several hundred troops from 17 countries will hold ten-day military exercises under NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) next month. He said he is satisfied with the ongoing preparations for the war games codenamed Cooperative Best Effort 2003.
“This is a good opportunity for Armenia to demonstrate that its commitment to peace,” Feist told reporters at a joint news conference with the chief of the Armenian army staff, General Mikael Harutiunian.
Harutiunian confirmed that Armenia’s arch-rival Turkey will take part in the exercises by sending a group of military observers. NATO officials said earlier that the Turkish military will not send in combat troops, something which would have prompted protests from some Armenian political groups.
Kocharian, according to his press service, described Feist’s visit as “yet another step towards strengthening relations” between Armenia and NATO. He was reported to reaffirm Yerevan’s intention to step up its participation in the PfP events.
The German admiral said afterwards that closer ties with NATO will be good for Armenia’s security and international standing.
Unlike neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenia maintains a military alliance with Russia and has ruled out seeking membership of NATO in the foreseeable future. Kocharian underscored this policy on Monday when he and the leaders of Russia and four other former Soviet republics agreed to develop their Collective Security Treaty into a fully-fledged international organization.