By Emil Danielyan
Armenia on Monday pledged to closely cooperate with the United States in combating the smuggling of nuclear and radioactive materials through its territory and reaffirmed its commitment to expanding broader U.S.-Armenian relations.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her visiting Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian, signed a plan of joint non-proliferation actions after talks in Washington. The State Department said the deal will significantly enhance US-Armenian “efforts to combat the threat that nuclear or highly radioactive materials could be acquired by terrorists or others who would use them to harm us.”
Those efforts will boost Armenia's capabilities "to prevent, detect, and respond effectively to attempts to smuggle nuclear or radioactive materials," the department said in a statement. "It specifies twenty-eight agreed steps that the two governments intend to be taken for this purpose," read the statement. "This assistance would complement and be carefully coordinated with the aid the Republic of Armenia is already receiving from various U.S. and international assistance programs," it added.
The U.S. government has already signed similar agreements with Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan as part of its Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative. The State Department said it also plans to extend the initiative to two dozen other countries where “the risk of nuclear
smuggling is of particular concern.”
It is not clear if Armenia’s proximity to Iran is among the factors making it a high-risk country in Washington’s eyes. Last year, a senior U.S. diplomat expressed serious concern about growing Armenian-Iranian economic ties, saying that they might run counter to international sanctions imposed on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Nalbandian assured Rice that Armenia remains committed to deepening its “multi-faceted relations” with the United States and “highly appreciated” U.S. economic assistance to his country, which has totaled about $2 billion since its independence.
A ministry statement said Nalbandian also discussed with Rice the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s strained relations with Turkey, a key U.S. ally. The U.S. has long been spearheading international efforts to broker a solution to the Karabakh dispute together with France and Russia.
A State Department spokesman indicated before the talks that the tense political situation in Armenia will also be on the agenda. “They are also going to touch upon issues in their meeting related to deepening political as well as economic reform in Armenia,” Sean McCormack told a daily press briefing in Washington.
While in Washington, Nalbandian also held talks with James Jeffrey, President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and John Danilovich, executive director of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.
(Armenian Foreign Ministry photo)