By Emil Danielyan
In a rare meeting with a senior Armenian official, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has discussed with the visiting Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian a broad range of issues relating to U.S.-Armenian relations and regional security.
Sarkisian was in Washington late last week to meet top U.S. official and attend annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He was received by Cheney in the White House late on Friday.
Cheney met President Serzh Sarkisian when the latter visited Washington in October 2007 in his then capacity as prime minister.
President George W. Bush has shunned both Serzh Sarkisian and his predecessor, Robert Kocharian, because of the highly controversial ways in which they won Armenia’s last three presidential elections criticized by Western observers. Bush sent no congratulatory messages to Sarkisian after the last presidential ballot held in February.
The outgoing U.S. administration seems more sympathetic to Armenia’s reformist prime minister, having praised his stated efforts to combat corruption, ensure equal government treatment of all businesses and reform Armenia’s tax and customs services. “The prime minister is setting a good example as he takes on tough issues and is advancing a reform agenda,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Matthew Bryza told RFE/RL recently.
The Armenian government’s press office said Cheney and Tigran Sarkisian discussed ways of strengthening U.S.-Armenian ties and “exchanged thoughts” on the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as well as Armenia’s recent rapprochement with Turkey. It cited Sarkisian as saying that Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s historic September 6 visit to Yerevan “could give a positive impetus to the normalization of relations” between Armenia and Turkey.
Still, Sarkisian described as “cause for concern” Gul’s recent speech at the UN General Assembly in which the Turkish leader linked that normalization with a resolution of the Karabakh conflict. He complained that the Armenian leadership’s “constructive” stance on relations with Turkey is often perceived as a sign of weakness in and outside Armenia.
On Karabakh, the Armenian premier was reported to reaffirm Yerevan’s overall support for a framework peace accord proposed by the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. He denounced as “dangerous” Bryza’s reported remark last week that the conflict should be resolved on the basis on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
A statement by the press office said Sarkisian also discussed with Cheney the release of $236.5 million in additional U.S. assistance to Armenian which Washington effectively froze following the February election and the ensuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition. The issue dominated Sarkisian’s separate talks with John Danilovich, chief executive of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency administering the aid package.
The MCC board declined to unblock the assistance during its most recent meeting in September.
(Armenian government photo)