U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged President Serzh Sarkisian to ensure that the upcoming municipal elections in Yerevan are democratic and assured him of continued U.S. support for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.
She made the call in a letter reported by the Sarkisian’s office on Friday. “Secretary of State Clinton emphasized that a free and fair conduct of the upcoming elections of Yerevan’s Council of Elders is an opportunity [for the Armenian authorities] to renew a commitment to democratic principles,” the presidential press service said in a statement.
According to the statement, Clinton also addressed U.S.-Armenian relations and, in particular, the provision of additional U.S. economic assistance to Armenia under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
Washington froze about 30 percent of the $236.5 million aid package, approved in 2006, following last year’s disputed Armenian presidential election. A U.S. government agency handling the scheme said in March that the authorities in Yerevan have still not addressed U.S. concerns about the “status of democratic governance” in the country.
Sarkisian’s press service did not say if Clinton linked the unblocking of the MCA funds with the proper conduct of the May 31 polls in Yerevan. The U.S. State Department declined to give details of her letter.
The presidential statement also cited Clinton as saying that the United States will continue to “consistently support” efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and improve Armenia’s relations with Turkey. Washington was reportedly instrumental in the April 22 announcement by Ankara and Yerevan that they have agreed on a “roadmap” to normalizing bilateral ties.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised more questions about that agreement when he reiterated on Wednesday that Turkey will not reopen its border with Armenia until the Karabakh conflict is resolved. Sarkisian on Thursday criticized Erdogan’s statements but did not specify whether he thinks they preclude further progress in Turkish-Armenian negotiations.
Yerevan’s continuing cautious stance prompted on Friday fresh criticism from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a nationalist party that pulled out of Sarkisian’s coalition government in protest against his overtures to Ankara. Giro Manoyan, a senior Dashnaktsutyun representative, said Erdogan’s remarks make it even more imperative for Armenia to halt the year-long dialogue with the Turks. Manoyan claimed with sarcasm that the only tangible result of that dialogue for the Armenian side was Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian’s May 4-5 visit to Washington during which he met Clinton.
Turkish-Armenian relations were high on the agenda of those talks. “It was a very, very good meeting,” a State Department spokesman said afterwards.