By Emil Danielyan
The U.S. and Armenian militaries agreed on Monday to exchange logistical support for their forces, laying the groundwork for what Armenia’s top general described as an “allied relationship.”
An agreement on “acquisitions and provision of mutual services” was signed in Yerevan by the chief of the Armenian army staff, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, and the visiting deputy commander of the U.S. troops in Europe, General Charles Wald. It reflects growing U.S.-Armenian military cooperation and is apparently linked to Armenia’s plans to send non-combat military personnel to Iraq.
“All the rights and obligations provided for in the agreement have an absolutely mutual character and allow the armed forces of both countries to establish allied relations during their joint activities and actions,” Harutiunian told a news conference.
Wald, making his second visit to Armenia in less than five months, hailed the agreement as “very important” for the two nations. “The importance of it is that it shows that we are increasing and cementing our relationship and that Armenia is a full participant of the war on terrorism. We are very excited about it.”
Asked to explain what practical forms the planned exchange of such support might take, Wald said: “If Armenia decides to send a truck company to Iraq and if they come to Iraq, they will be able to be provided with fuel without having to pay for it every time. At some point the Armenians will pay United States back.”
He denied that the U.S. military would like to use Armenia’s airports and other military facilities for its ongoing combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying: “We have no reason to use bases here for combat. There hasn’t been any discussion on that whatsoever.” Nor does Washington have plans to open a military base in any of the three South Caucasus states, he added.
Wald arrived in Yerevan on Sunday and met with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian later in the day. According to Harutiunian, the two sides discussed U.S. military assistance to Armenia and agreed to hold joint exercises in the future. He said the U.S. military will also help the Armenian armed forces “reform” their command structure.
The American aid, which has totaled about $8 million since late 2001, is mostly being used for modernizing the Armenian military’s communication facilities.
The promised dispatch to Iraq of a small Armenian army contingent comprising demining experts, doctors and military trucks was also on the agenda of Wald’s talks. But it remained unclear when Yerevan plans to make them available for the U.S.-led occupation force, with Harutiunian saying that the issue is still “being discussed.” The general would not say if the worsening security situation in Iraq could cause his government to change its mind.
The Armenian deployment in Iraq was also discussed in Yerevan by another senior U.S. military officer late last month. “Details of that deployment are being worked out right now,” Major-General Jeffery Kohler, director of plans and policy at the U.S. European Command, said during the trip.
Armenia’s “continuing cooperation in the war on terror” was praised by President George W. Bush in his weekend statement on the 89th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “Our country seeks to help Armenia expand its strategic relations with the United States and our European allies,” Bush said.