Armenia and Georgia have held U.S.-sponsored joint exercises in Yerevan aimed at improving their ability to prevent illegal transit of weapons of mass destruction through their territories, it was announced on Friday.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said the three-day “command-and-staff” exercises, which drew to a close on Thursday evening, brought together law-enforcement and other officials from the two neighboring states as well as “U.S. specialists.”
A ministry statement said they focused on procedures for “detecting and averting smuggling of weapons of mass destruction and WMD components through the Armenian-Georgian border.” It said they also looked into “nuclear and radiological dangers” and ways of countering illegal trafficking of dual-use commodities.
The ministry added that the Armenian and Georgian governments will hold “field exercises” for the same purpose in June.
The drills appear to reflect U.S. concerns stemming from several instances of enriched uranium confiscated by the Georgian authorities in recent years. In one such case, two Armenians were arrested in Tbilisi in March 2010 for allegedly trying to sell 18 grams (0.6 ounces) of uranium for $1.5 million.
Another Armenian national, Garik Dadayan, was detained in Yerevan at the time on charges of supplying the radioactive material to the two men. Dadayan was already arrested by Georgian border guards in 2003 while entering the country with 200 grams of highly-enriched uranium. He was subsequently tried by an Armenian court and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) said in November 2010 that it has closely cooperated with Georgian law-enforcement authorities in their secret probe of the alleged uranium smuggling. Nuclear energy officials in Yerevan insisted, meanwhile, that the uranium confiscated by the Georgians had not been stolen from the nuclear power station at Metsamor.
The fact that Armenia borders on Iran might also explain why the United States is interested in closer Armenian-Georgian cooperation against WMD trafficking.
In 2002, the U.S. State Department blacklisted an Armenian businessman who had allegedly sold biochemical equipment to an Iranian-linked company registered in the United Arab Emirates.
The equipment was dismantled from a Soviet-era Armenian factory that used to grow special bacteria for the production of lysine, an amino acid added to animal fodder. Scientists say they can also generate other biochemical substances.
The embarrassing affair prompted the Armenian government to tighten, with Washington’s assistance, export controls at Armenia’s main border crossings. Over the past decade, Armenian border guard and customs services have been supplied with U.S.-made radio-communication systems, border sensors, metal detectors, cargo truck scales, and X-ray devices.