By Emil Danielyan
In a further sign of Armenia’s growing ties with NATO, President Robert Kocharian announced on Friday the appointment of a senior diplomat exclusively tasked with representing the country at the Western alliance.
Kocharian’s office said Samvel Mkrtchian, who until now headed the European department at the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan, will take over as chief of the Armenian mission at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
That position has until now been held by Armenia’s ambassadors to Belgium. The current Armenian envoy in Brussels, Vigen Chitechian, was thus relieved of his NATO functions by the presidential decree.
“I regard my appointment as a result of a further deepening and expansion of our ties with NATO,” Mkrtchian told RFE/RL.
Armenia, which is a close ally of Russia, has increased its cooperation with NATO in recent years through the U.S.-led alliance’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. In particular, it hosted a first-ever NATO-led military exercise on its soil in June 2003. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian has said that Yerevan will would like hold more such drills in the future.
Mkrtchian said the Armenian government has decided to raise its participation in the PfP to a higher level by negotiating an “individual partnership action plan,” or IPAP, with the NATO leadership. Similar plans have already been worked out for neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan.