By Emil Danielyan
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza praised Armenia’s efforts to forge closer defense links with the United States and discussed ways of boosting its “energy security” during a visit to Yerevan on Tuesday.
“The reason I am here is that I want to do everything I possibly can to strengthen the already strong collaboration between the United States and Armenia,” Bryza told reporters after holding “very constructive” talks with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders.
“We are working hard together to help Armenia to realize its desire to have stronger relations with the Euro-Atlantic family. We are pleased with the considerable progress made in this regard over past year,” he said, singling out the signing of Yerevan’s “individual partnership action plan” with NATO.
Bryza added that it is up to the Armenian leadership, which continues to regard the military alliance with Russia as the bedrock of its national security doctrine, to decide how far it wants to go in deepening military cooperation with the West. “I don’t think that the government of Armenia can move at a pace that for us is too quick,” he said. “But we are very happy with the level of cooperation. This has been a significant year for U.S.-Armenian security cooperation.”
The issue was high on the agenda of his separate meetings with Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. The U.S. official also had what he described as a “very detailed and interesting discussion on energy security” with Energy Minister Armen Movsisian and Armenian energy sector experts.
“The key to energy security for Armenia, as for any country, is diversity. Armenia has a long and positive experience working with Russian gas suppliers and that needs to continue,” he said.
Bryza went on to indicate that Washington is ready to help the landlocked country reduce its heavy dependence on Russian energy resources. But he stopped short of endorsing the Armenian government’s decision to build a gas pipeline from Iran, the U.S. arch-rival in the region. “The United States, like the entire international community, is not in favor of any steps that will lead to significant expansion of Iran’s ability to project economic or any other type of power,” he said.
Bryza argued in that regard that diversification of Armenia’s energy resource supplies relates to “not just natural gas but other types of energy as well, which is hydro power …, geothermal power as well as potentially a new generation of nuclear power.”
The remark suggests that the U.S. does not object to the Armenian government’s extremely ambitious plans to build a new nuclear power station in place of the Metsamor plant, which is due to be decommissioned by 2016. Movsisian and other Armenian energy officials admitted last week that they will need at least $1 billion in foreign investments to put the project into practice.
Also, Bryza pointedly avoided any criticism of the Kocharian administration’s democracy and human rights record, speaking instead of the need for ordinary Armenians to develop a “culture of democracy” and urging the Armenian opposition to operate “constructively.”
“We hope over the next few months and years to use all of our assistance levers to build democracy not only from the top down but most importantly from the bottom up,” Bryza said, adding that the U.S. considers Armenia to be a “democratizing country.”
The Bush administration approved recently $235.6 million in additional economic assistance to Armenian under its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program, saying that the Armenian authorities have addressed U.S. concerns about their commitment to democracy and good governance. That commitment was most recently called into question by their handling of last November’s disputed constitutional referendum.
Bryza further declined to confirm or refute reports that the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, John Evans, will be recalled soon over his public recognition last year of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as a genocide. The Bush administration and the State Department distanced themselves from Evans’s remarks at the time, insisting that they did not signal any change in U.S. policy on the issue.
“He, like all of us, serves at the pleasure of the president of the United States,” Bryza said, sitting next to Evans. “It’s up to the president to make his own decisions, including on personnel.”
“The fact of the matter is that I do not know when I will be leaving Armenia and I have not submitted by retirement papers,” Evans said for his part.
(Photolur photo: Matthew Bryza.)