NATO is seeking a deeper involvement in the South Caucasus and would like to step up its cooperation with Armenia, a senior official from the Western alliance said in Yerevan on Monday.
According to James Appathurai, NATO’s special representative to the region, the alliance leadership is now considering ways of gaining a stronger foothold in the volatile region.
“But of course we don’t want to impose ourselves,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We just want to offer more opportunities for cooperation. And if countries like Armenia but also Georgia and Azerbaijan wish to take this offer, we will have more to do, more on the menu in the coming months and years.”
Appathurai said NATO’s cooperation with Armenia has already been “good” in the last few years, pointing to the Armenian participation in NATO-led missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as the alliance’s assistance to ongoing “very comprehensive” reforms of the Armenian military.
“Can we do more? Yes,” he continued. “We’d love to see, for example, an Armenian contribution to the new NATO mission in Afghanistan after 2014. We’d like to help with more defense reform which we think is good for this country. So there is more to do, but we are on a good foundation.
“There is clearly good will here in Yerevan to do more with us, and I can assure you that there is good will in Brussels to do more with this country, with the whole region. More operational cooperation, more support for defense reform. We have the resources to provide more support.”
The envoy said he will discuss the NATO offers during his separate talks with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian. He met with Nalbandian later in the day.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke of “potential for further development of our partnership” when he visited Yerevan in September. He insisted that there is “no contradiction” between Armenia’s military alliance with Russia and closer ties with NATO.
President Serzh Sarkisian similarly said after talks with Rasmussen that Yerevan will continue combining its membership of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) with growing cooperation with the U.S.-led alliance.
Armenia’s ties with NATO have deepened significantly under the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) launched in 2005 and repeatedly modified since then. The cooperation framework commits the country to implementing wide-ranging defense reforms and participating in NATO-led missions abroad.
NATO and some of its individual member states, notably the United States, have provided considerable technical and financial assistance to a special peacekeeping brigade of the Armenian army that provides troops to those missions.
Later in September, some 600 soldiers of the volunteer unit simulated their participation in a multinational peacekeeping operation in an exercise watched by U.S. military instructors. The exercise also involved what the Armenian Defense Ministry described as a successful “self-appraisal with NATO standards” by the brigade’s Staff Company.