By Emil Danielyan
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Monday reaffirmed Armenia's desire to strengthen defense and security ties with the United States, saying that they will “complement,” rather than weaken, Yerevan’s military alliance with Russia.
Sarkisian said his official visit to the United States, which ended at the weekend, gave a strong boost to developing military cooperation between the two countries.
“I believe that the visit was quite successful,” he told a news conference at the Armenian defense ministry. “Our meetings in the United States marked the beginning of Armenian-American military consultations.”
Sarkisian met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, and other top officials in Washington. The two sides seem to have reached agreement on the use of $4.3 million in military assistance to Armenia approved by the U.S. Congress late last year.
A joint statement said the U.S. government will train Armenian military personnel and upgrade communication facilities of Armenia's armed forces. The military training will also extend to an Armenian peace-keeping battalion created last year with the help of NATO member Greece. A Pentagon spokesman told RFE/RL that the talks opened a new era of cooperation between Washington and Yerevan.
Sarkisian’s five-day trip to America followed the official opening of a U.S-funded demining center near Yerevan, hailed by the two governments as the first concrete result of their military cooperation.
Sarkisian made it clear on Monday that his country’s close military ties with Russia are not an obstacle to the development of U.S-Armenian cooperation. He said: “The United States does not aim to replace Russian troops or Russian role in Armenia. It just aims to complement them.”
Sarkisian said the Washington talks discussed the security situation in Georgia “insofar as it is related to Armenia.” He reiterated Yerevan's position that the planned deployment of U.S. special troops in neighboring Georgia will not destabilize the region, as was claimed by some Russian officials. But he ruled out a similar deployment in Armenia.
“I don’t think that the situation in Georgia is explosive. I think that there is going to be stability in Georgia,” the influential minister said.