The document reveals that top Bush administration officials raised their “deep concerns” with President Serzh Sarkisian and were unconvinced by his denial of “the arms re-export case” dating back to 2003.
In a December 2008 secret letter sent through the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, the then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte pressed Sarkisian to take wide-ranging measures that would “ensure such transfers do not occur in the future.” “Notwithstanding the close relationship between our countries, neither the Administration nor the U.S. Congress can overlook this case,” he wrote.
“By law, the transfer of these weapons requires us to consider whether there is a basis for the imposition of U.S. sanctions. If sanctions are imposed, penalties could include the cutoff of U.S. assistance and certain export restrictions,” warned Negroponte.
That, he said, should take the form of a written pledge to tighten export controls and allow U.S. officials to carry out “unannounced” inspections of Armenian border checkpoints. Yerevan would also be required to “consult” with Washington before selling weapons or dual-use commodities to countries that are not member states of the EU or NATO.
Whether Sarkisian accepted these demands and signed a relevant agreement with the Americans is not clear. Sarkisian’s office on Monday refused to comment on this.
“I will refrain from commenting on secret documents of other countries,” the presidential press secretary, Armen Arzumanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. The Armenian Foreign Ministry also declined a comment.
Reacting to the development, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, said that Armenia’s relations with Iran have always been “very transparent.” “And if somebody makes statements [to the contrary,] then it’s up to them to substantiate those statements,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
A senior representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another major party that was represented in Armenia’s governing coalitions from 2003-2009, questioned the credibility of the U.S. claims. Speaking to RFE/RL, Giro Manoyan said the fact that the U.S. never slapped sanctions threatened by Negroponte means that “there was probably no such thing.”
Manoyan, whose party is now in opposition to the Sarkisian administration, suggested that Washington might have simply sought to prevent possible use of Armenian territory in Iran’s military procurements or to be able to inspect Armenian border facilities at will.
The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, declined to comment on the content of the disclosed document. The embassy only reaffirmed the State Department’s strong condemnation of this and other WikiLeaks revelations. In a written statement, it also downplayed the significance of classified correspondence between Washington and U.S. diplomatic missions abroad.
“Theses cables are often preliminary and incomplete expressions of foreign policy, and they should not be seen as having standing on their own or as representing U.S. policy,” read the statement.
A “background” note for U.S. diplomats in Yerevan that was attached to Negroponte’s letter contends that Armenia “facilitated” Iran’s purchase of rockets and machine guns in 2003. “In 2007, some of these weapons were recovered from two Shia militant attacks in which a United States soldier was killed and six others were injured in Iraq,” it says without specifying the precise type and origin of the weapons.
The 2008 document adds that the State Department plans to send a team of officials to Yerevan who will present additional proof of the arms transfer and “make it unreasonable for Sarkisian to continue his denials.” It says “high-ranking Armenian officials” were directly involved in the deal but does not name any of them.
Sarkisian served as Armenia’s defense minister and was they key associate of then President Robert Kocharian during the alleged transfer.
Yerevan faced a major embarrassment in May 2002 when the U.S. State Department blacklisted an Armenian businessman who had allegedly sold biochemical equipment to an Iranian-linked company registered in the United Arab Emirates. The equipment was dismantled from Soviet-era Armenian factory that used to grow special bacteria for the production of lysine, an amino acid added to animal fodder. Scientists say they could also generate other biochemical substances.
The embarrassing affair prompted the Kocharian government to tighten export controls on Armenia’s main border crossings. The U.S. had begun helping it prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction even before the scandal.
Over the past decade, Armenian border guard and customs services have been supplied with various U.S.-made equipment such as radio-communication systems, border sensors, metal detectors, cargo truck scales, and X-ray units. The supplies have been part of the U.S. government’s Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance Program (EXBS) implemented in dozens of countries around the world.