By Anna Saghabalian
A visiting senior U.S. official on Monday praised the Armenian government’s conduct of recent parliamentary elections and expressed hope that it will bolster Armenia’s ties with the West.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza described the May 12 vote as the most democratic in the country’s history after holding talks with President Robert Kocharian and leaders of the main Armenian parties.
“I would like to recognize and congratulate Armenia for its success in holding what appears to be the freest and fairest election in this phase of Armenia’s independence,” Bryza told reporters, echoing the findings of Western election observers.
“These elections were a real step forward in the development of democracy in Armenia,” he said. “These elections brought the Armenian electoral process closer to international standards than any previous election. But there is still some room to go.”
Bryza said democratic reform featured large during the talks along with discussions on the current state of Armenia’s relationship with the United States and Western security structures. He welcomed recent years’ increase in the defense and security component of that relationship, saying he hopes it will deepen further despite Yerevan’s close ties with Russia.
“We need to build on that foundation of security cooperation, to the extent that Armenia wishes, to energize those ties between the Euro-Atlantic community and Armenia, even as Armenia maintains strong and, we hope, very warm relations with Russia,” Bryza said. “We don’t want Armenia to choose either the Euro-Atlantic community, or Russia. We want Armenia to choose both of them at the same time.”
A statement by Kocharian’s office gave few details of his talks with the U.S. official which took place in the Armenian president’s summer retreat on Lake Sevan. It said only that the two men discussed “issues relating to the current phase of negotiations on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
Bryza, who is also the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, confirmed that Karabakh was also on the agenda. He said he will proceed to Moscow late Wednesday for two-day consultations with the group’s two other co-chairs representing France and Russia.
In a joint statement earlier this month, the three mediators expressed their disappointment with Kocharian’s and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s failure last month to iron out their “remaining differences” over a framework peace accord put forward by the Minsk Group. They urged the two leaders to meet again “in the coming months” and again try to achieve a breakthrough before the start of campaigning for presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan next year.
Bryza indicated on Monday that this is unlikely to happen not only because of the approaching elections but the ongoing international talks on the status of Kosovo that look set to result in international recognition of the Albanian-populated territory’s secession from Serbia.
“I do sense that the political climate here is shifting its focus toward the elections,” he said. “I sensed that in my own discussions on Nagorno-Karabakh. I sense also that everybody involved with Karabakh … is wondering whether or not the Kosovo process will have an impact on Karabakh.”
“So maybe the leaders are going to decide that they want to themselves take some time to think things through and get a better feel for how the political situations play out over the next few months,” he added.
(Presidential press service photo)