Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and the visiting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus praised growing military cooperation between Armenia and the United States after holding talks in Yerevan on Monday.
Both men said defense links between their nations will continue to deepen in the coming years. Mabus announced in this context that the U.S. Marine Corps subordinate to him plans to train more Armenian military personnel through joint exercises.
“The United States Marine Corps reporting to the secretary of the Navy helps to explain why the secretary of the navy comes to a country with no ocean,” he told a joint news conference during what was the first-ever visit to Armenia by a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps chief.
“The American Navy and the American Marine Corps have been glad to work with the Armenian Armed Forces on the defense strategic planning and on exercises that we have conducted together over the past two years,” Mabus said. “And we are planning for more of these in the future.”
Mabus revealed that U.S. Marines have held “a number of” such drills with the Armenian army this year through their Black Sea Rotational Forces. “Part of that was focused on the development of a highly capable and highly professional non-commissioned officer corps,” he explained.
“We look forward to additional exercises with the Armenian Armed Forces. We look forward to additional engagement in terms of planning, in terms of working together to become more interoperable,” added the U.S. official.
“The years 2011 and 2012 have been special in our relations [in terms of] high-level mutual visits and defense consultations,” Ohanian said for his part. “Especially my visit to the United States [in March] and this visit testify to the fact that relations between Armenia and the United States in the area of defense are at a high level and developing dynamically.”
“Our joint efforts will continue in 2013 as well,” added the Armenian defense chief.
Ohanian met with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other top U.S. officials during the Washington trip. One of the agreements reached by them was Armenia’s renewed participation in a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Thirty-five Armenian soldiers were deployed in the former Yugoslav province in July. They are serving there under U.S. command.
Ohanian noted on Monday that peacekeeping has been one of the two main areas of U.S.-Armenian defense cooperation, which has also been developing within the NATO framework. The U.S. has provided considerable financial and technical assistance to a special Armenian army brigade that contributes troops to the NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Last month, several hundred soldiers of the brigade held three-day exercises near Yerevan in the presence of U.S. military instructors.
According to Ohanian, defense reform is the other major component of U.S.-Armenian military ties. The training of Armenian non-commissioned officers by the U.S. Marine Corps is part of that reform, he said.
Ohanian further declared that Yerevan hopes to start cooperating with U.S. defense industries. “This is a new area where we can exchange experience,” the minister said, adding that the Armenian military is specifically interested in modernizing small arms and other equipment used by its special forces.
Speaking after talks with Italy’s Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola in Yerevan on October 17, Ohanian similarly stated that Armenia wants to bolster the domestic defense industry through closer ties with NATO member states.
Armenia has until now relied almost exclusively on Russia, its main military ally, in developing its military-industrial complex.