By Karine Kalantarian
Official Yerevan signaled its unease on Monday over Poland’s plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq, a move which would complicate continued Armenian participation in the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing.”
The issue was on the agenda of Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s talks with his visiting Polish counterpart Anna Fotyga.
A small contingent of non-combat Armenian troops has been serving in Iraq since the beginning of 2005 as part of a Polish-led multinational division deployed in Shia-populated areas south of Baghdad. Poland’s governing coalition is pressing for the withdrawal of the division’s 900-strong Polish personnel by the end of this year.
According to Fotyga, the government in Warsaw hopes that President Lech Kaczynski will agree to their pullout. “Of course, the government has made such a request, but no decision has been made yet,” she told a news conference in Yerevan.
“I raised this issue during our meeting,” said Oskanian. “The minister gave me the same answer. If there is a decision, they will certainly inform us. But there seems to be no such problem at the moment.” He would not say whether Yerevan will maintain its modest troop presence in Iraq in case of a Polish withdrawal.
The Armenian parliament agreed last December to extend the mandate of the 46 Armenian servicemen by another year. A senior U.S. diplomat expressed hope last month that they will remain in Iraq next year. Anthony Godfrey, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, said “Armenia understands that it must be a contributor to international security.”
Fotyga also discussed with Oskanian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian bilateral economic ties and Armenia’s efforts to forge closer ties with the European Union and NATO. The two foreign ministers signed a memorandum of Polish-Armenian cooperation on “European integration issues” in 2007 and 2008. Fotyga said her EU and NATO member country will assist in Armenia’s participation in the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy framework.
Markarian was quoted by his office as telling Fotyga that Yerevan also counts on Polish assistance in the implementation of Armenia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO. In Oskanian’s words, “concrete steps are already being taken in that direction.”
(Photolur photo: Fotyga and Oskanian speak at the joint news conference.)