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The United States hopes that Armenia will carry on with European integration even after pledging to join a customs union led by Russia, a U.S. State Department official said on Thursday.

The official, who asked not to be identified, commented on Washington’s reaction to President Serzh Sarkisian’s surprise decision to make Armenia part of the trade bloc which Moscow plans to turn into a Eurasian Economic Union of ex-Soviet states.

“Armenia is a sovereign nation, with its own path to chart,” the official told RFE/RL. “These decisions are of vital importance, and they are a question for Armenia and Armenians to decide.”

“We encourage Armenia to maintain a range of options in the political, economic and security spheres, and most importantly to maintain its commitment to further democratization, political and economic reform and European integration,” he added.

The official noted that the U.S. was “encouraged” by the recent completion of Armenia’s negotiations with the European Union on an Association Agreement. It was due to be initialed at an EU summit in November.

With the EU having repeatedly said that Armenian membership in the customs union is “not compatible” with the Association Agreement, Sarkisian all but scuttled the deal with his decision announced after his September 3 talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many believe that it was the result of strong Russian pressure exerted on him by Putin.

“The intensity of what Europeans see as Russian pressure tactics and the speed of Armenia's U-turn have spooked EU officials,” “The Wall Street Journal” reported from Brussels. It quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that Armenia negotiated with the EU in good faith but that "they themselves did not expect this kind of pressure from Russia."

The State Department official also seemed to point the finger at Russia. “All countries have the right to choose their own path of economic integration and development, according to national interest,” the official said. “No country has the right to determine the political and economic orientation of another country, nor decide which alliances and trade agreements it can join.”
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