U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections and reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations as she ended a one-day visit to Yerevan late on Monday.
The short trip was the opening leg of Clinton’s second tour of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in two years. It involved talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian as well as an address to Armenian civil rights activists.
“We are pleased to see Armenia continue to work to strengthen your democratic institutions, to promote transparency, advance the rights of a free press, root out corruption, respect universal rights and freedoms,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Nalbandian.
“I was very pleased at the reports from international monitors about Armenia’s parliamentary elections last month being generally competitive and inclusive, where candidates were able to campaign for the most part without interference,” she said. “There were some electoral problems that were identified, and we hope that Armenia will work with the OSCE and others to ensure that the next election is even better.”
Official results of the May 6 elections gave Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) a landslide victory. The country’s leading opposition groups have refused to recognize their legitimacy, alleging serious fraud. Clinton’s remarks as well as the European Union’s similarly positive reaction to the election conduct will put the authorities in Yerevan in a stronger position to dismiss those allegations.
Clinton also commended the Armenian government’s efforts to improve the domestic business environment. “We are pleased at the progress Armenia has made and we encourage that even more progress occur this year,” she said. “I’m convinced that unleashing the Armenian people’s entrepreneurial energy can transform the economy and we look forward to being your partner in doing that.”
In a further boost to Sarkisian’s international standing, Clinton again endorsed official Yerevan’s view that Turkey should stop linking parliamentary ratification of the U.S.-brokered normalization agreements signed with Armenia in 2009 to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“We strongly support ratification of the Turkey-Armenia protocols without preconditions,” she said. “We commend Armenia and President Sarkisian for the leadership they have shown on this issue.”
“As I said when I was here two years ago, the ball remains in Turkey’s court,” stressed the chief U.S. diplomat.
A visibly satisfied Nalbandian spoke of Washington’s and Yerevan’s “common approach” to normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, a key U.S. policy goal in the region. “That position has been and remains: the normalization of relations without preconditions,” he said.
Clinton further made clear that the United States will remain “very actively involved” in international efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian ties and end the Karabakh conflict. “There is no linkage between the protocols process and the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations as they are separate,” she said. “But we are equally engaged and pushing hard to try to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh matter.”
Both Sarkisian and Nalbandian praised the current state of U.S.-Armenian ties, saying that they have “reached the highest point in history.” “We highly appreciate the U.S. role in our region,” the Armenian president was quoted by his press office as telling Clinton.