U.S. President Barack Obama has described U.S.-Armenian relations as “strong” and pledged to deepen them despite Armenia’s upcoming accession to a new Russia-led alliance of ex-Soviet states.
“Armenia and the United States have a strong history rooted in partnership and friendship. The people-to-people, cultural and economic ties that bind our countries are impressive and inspiring,” Obama said in a weekend letter to President Serzh Sarkisian that congratulated him on Armenia’s Independence Day.
“The U.S.-Armenia relationship remains strong, and we look forward to continuing and deepening our cooperation for many years to come,” read the letter publicized by Sarkisian’s office.
“The deep bonds between the United States and Armenia are strong,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said for his part. “We will continue to strengthen our partnership with Armenia in various dimensions including security cooperation, economic and democratic development, and expanding people-to-people exchanges.”
“As you celebrate 23 years of independence, know that the United States stands with Armenia as a partner and friend,” Kerry added in a statement that congratulated Armenians on their national holiday.
Obama’s and Kerry’s statements chimed with Sarkisian’s recent calls for “deepening the multifaceted Armenian-American cooperation.” “We deeply cherish our friendship with the United States and are pleased that … we have elevated our bilateral partnership to a qualitatively new level,” Sarkisian wrote in a congratulatory message to Obama in July. He specifically hailed “growing American involvement” in the Armenian economy.
The Armenian leader reaffirmed his stated commitment to closer ties with U.S. less than a year after unexpectedly deciding to seek Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) at the expense of a far-reaching Association Agreement with the European Union. Yerevan also raised eyebrows in the West when it joined Russia in recognizing the internationally condemned referendum in Crimea and voting against a pro-Ukrainian resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in March.
Richard Mills, Obama’s pick for the next U.S. ambassador to Armenia, reiterated Washington’s “disappointment” with the Armenian vote during congressional hearings on his candidacy held last week. But he stressed that the Obama administration’s “commitment to a strong bilateral relationship with Armenia remains unchanged.”
Mills also indicated that Armenia’s anticipated membership in the EEU is not an insurmountable obstacle to its closer partnership with the West. He said Sarkisian’s foreign policy U-turn, widely blamed on strong Russian pressure, only underscored the importance of “decreasing Armenia’s regional isolation and bolstering its economic and security independence.”
“We have stressed since Armenia’s decision that strengthened economic collaboration with the United States and Europe can complement Armenia’s future membership in the Eurasian Economic Union,” the ambassador-designate told the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
“Our military cooperation with Armenia is strong and deepening,” Mills went on, pointing to the Armenian involvement in the NATO-led missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Sarkisian plans to keep 120 or so Armenian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan even after NATO officially completes combat operations and launches a smaller mission there in January. He further underlined his desire for closer security ties with the West earlier this month by attending a NATO summit for the first time in more than five years.
Mills also made clear on September 17 that the U.S. continues to back Armenia’s insistence on Turkey’s unconditional implementation of the 2009 protocols on normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations. “We have been clear that responsibility for moving forward lies with the Turkish government,” he said. “The [Obama] administration will continue to press at the highest levels for Turkish ratification of the protocols.”