By Hrach Melkumian
NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed on Friday Armenia’s growing cooperation with the Western alliance during a brief visit to Yerevan that wrapped up his tour of the three South Caucasus states.
“I think that the relationship between Armenia and NATO is developing very well indeed,” de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference after talks with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
“Armenia has taken an important decision to develop the so-called Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO,” he said, referring to a cooperation framework that will raise Yerevan’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program to a higher level.
Meeting with Scheffer, Kocharian reaffirmed his government’s intention to forge closer links with NATO while maintaining its military alliance with Russia. “We want to have a more active participation in a number of programs,” he said in apparent reference to the IPAP.
That policy was underscored by Kocharian’s decision last September to name a senior diplomat exclusively tasked with representing the country at the alliance headquarters in Brussels. Those functions were performed until then by Armenia’s ambassador to Belgium.
Scheffer hailed the appointment of a permanent Armenian envoy to NATO. He also said that the individual action plan to be agreed by the two side will be based on the Armenian government’s proposals. According to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a special government commission will be set up soon to deal with the matter.
Also on the agenda of the NATO chief’s talks was the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Scheffer again ruled out a NATO mediation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
“NATO has no intention and ambition to play an active role in finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he said. “That’s up to the [OSCE] Minsk Group co-chairs.”
Meeting with students and the faculty of Yerevan State University later in the day, the former Dutch foreign minister described international terrorism as the most pressing challenge facing the U.S.-led alliance and its partners. He said they should adjust their security priorities accordingly.
“We have to adapt ourselves to a new strategic environment,” he said. “That applies to NATO, the NATO secretary general and Armenia and its government.”