By Emil Danielyan
Howard Dean, a former U.S. presidential hopeful who now heads the Democratic National Committee, began a two-day visit Armenia on Friday, meeting with President Robert Kocharian and other senior officials.
Official Armenian sources said his talks with President Robert Kocharian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian focused on the current state of U.S.-Armenian relations, the situation in the South Caucasus and international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia’s strained relations with Turkey, a key U.S. ally, were also on the agenda, they said.
Kocharian was quoted by his press service as welcoming the “dynamic” development of U.S.-Armenian ties and commending the United States for its “weighty contribution” to economic reforms implemented in Armenia. Baghdasarian, for his part, hailed Washington’s “great mission to strengthen democracy around the world,” according to a statement by the speaker’s office.
It was not clear if the praise was specifically addressed to the administration of President George W. Bush, of which Dean has been a bitter critic. Dean, who nearly won the Democratic Party’s nomination in the last U.S. presidential election, told Baghdasarian and leaders of the Armenian parliament factions that “development of democracy is the only possibility of progress in Armenia” and that the U.S. has always been ready to support the process. A resolution of the Karabakh conflict and a normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations are also important for the country’s development, he said.
Dean was also reported to note the Democratic Party’s “strong ties” with the influential Armenian-American community, saying that it will continue to support pro-Armenian resolutions in Congress.
Dean’s first-ever visit to Yerevan was organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential party that controls one of the two main Armenian lobbying groups on Capitol Hill: the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). ANCA and other Dashnaktsutyun structures in the U.S. supported the former Vermont governor’s presidential bid in the Democratic primaries. They as well as many other Armenian-American groups later endorsed John Kerry, Bush’s Democratic challenger.
Dashnaktsutyun representatives said that although they arranged the high-level meetings, Dean himself had expressed a desire to visit Armenia as well as Georgia as part of his ongoing tour of Eastern Europe. The prominent Democrat also met on Friday with U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans and is due to visit the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on Saturday.