U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has telephoned President Serzh Sarkisian to discuss U.S.-Armenian relations and regional security, the first high-level contact between the incoming U.S. administration and Armenia’s government.
According to Sarkisian’s press office, the two men expressed confidence that bilateral ties will continue to deepen during Donald Trump’s presidency.
“The interlocutors stressed that under the new U.S. administration the current high level of U.S.-Armenian cooperation in the political and economic fields will not only be maintained but will also receive new impetus,” the office said in a readout of the phone call that took place late on Thursday.
The statement said Sarkisian and Pence also spoke about “regional issues and challenges” as well as other matters of “mutual interest.” It gave no other details.
Sarkisian praised Trump’s “outstanding leadership qualities, experience and vision” when he congratulated the Republican candidate on his surprise victory in the November 8 presidential election. In a congratulatory letter, the Armenian leader also said he believes “the U.S.-Armenia partnership will continue to develop dynamically” after Trump takes over as U.S. president.
Throughout his rule, Sarkisian has sought closer ties with the United States while maintaining Armenia’s political and military alliance with Russia.
Bridget Brink, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, commented cautiously on possible changes in U.S. policy towards the South Caucasus under Trump when she visited Yerevan two weeks ago. “I can’t predict what the exact contours of the next administration’s policies will be,” she told reporters.
Trump never publicly spoke about the South Caucasus and U.S. interests in the region during the U.S. presidential race. And neither he nor his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton sought to woo the Armenian community in the United States. They specifically avoided any pledges to officially recognize the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey if elected president.
One of the community’s two main advocacy groups, the Armenian Assembly of America, congratulated Trump on his election win.
For its part, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said on November 17 that it will seek to “reach out to the Trump transition team and incoming Administration” through pro-Armenian Republican lawmakers, notably Paul Ryan, the newly reelected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The ANCA said it will keep pressing Washington to recognize the genocide, increase U.S. economic assistance to Armenia and support Nagorno-Karabakh’s “security and self-determination.”
Ryan was endorsed by the ANCA in the November congressional election because of his support for draft congressional resolutions describing the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians as genocide.
By contrast, Pence opposed one such bill in March 2010 when he was a Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. While acknowledging that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide, Pence said that the U.S. should not affirm that because “Turkey is a strategic partner in our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Pence threatened to reconsider his stance on the genocide issue just three months later, amid a sharp deterioration of Turkey’s relations with Israel. “They [the Turks] need to understand going forward there's going to be a cost regarding the Armenian resolution,” he warned at the time.