The United States hopes that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian will take “decisive steps” to help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after his likely victory in Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said on Thursday.
Visiting Yerevan as part of a regional tour, John Bolton also declared that Washington is ready to sell weapons to Yerevan in order to reduce “excessive foreign influence” on the South Caucasus state allied to Russia.
Bolton gave an exclusive interview to RFE/RL’s Armenian service after holding talks with Pashinian. He said they discussed a “very wide range of subjects” and the unresolved Karabakh conflict in particular.
“We wanted to be of whatever assistance we could be behind the scenes, as well as one of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, to see if we could help facilitate a solution between Armenia and Azerbaijan that would be mutually agreeable to both,” Bolton said. “And we recognized the obvious difficulties there. But we just felt that the prime minister was in an excellent position here in Armenia and would be after the elections to show leadership on that.”
Bolton emphasized this point at a separate news conference held in the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. He noted that Pashinian is widely expected to win the snap parliamentary elections expected in December.
“It is a fact that if the predictions come true he will have a very strong mandate, and that is the most opportune moment to take strong action in a number of different respects. And if, as I appreciated what I learned in the meetings here today, … the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh is the primary issue on the Armenian political agenda, there is no better time to try and take decisive action than right after that election,” said the top aide to Trump.
An Armenian government statement on Pashinian’s meeting with Bolton said both men stressed the importance of “consistent” efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Karabakh dispute. They also agreed on the need for creating “the right atmosphere for the negotiation process,” the statement added without elaborating.
Bolton arrived in Yerevan from Baku where he discussed the conflict with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday. He said in the Azerbaijani capital that Washington will continue to support a peaceful Karabakh settlement.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Bolton said that a Karabakh peace would greatly help Armenia’s struggling economy as it would lead to open borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. It is also “the surest way to reduce an excessive outside influence in Armenia,” he said in a clear reference to Russia, Armenia’s main political and military ally.
Commenting on potential security alternatives for Armenia, Bolton, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this week, spoke of possible U.S. arms sales to Yerevan.
“We have restrictions Congress has imposed on the United States in terms of [weapons] sales to Azerbaijan and Armenia because of the conflict, but there are exceptions to that,” Bolton explained.
“As I said to the prime minister, if it’s a question of buying Russian military equipment versus buying U.S. military equipment, we’d prefer the latter,” he said. “We think our equipment is better than the Russians’ anyway.
“So we want to look at that. And I think it increases Armenia’s options when it’s not entirely dependent on one major power.”
Relations with Iran, a key neighbor of Armenia, were also on the agenda of Bolton’s talks with Pashinian. The U.S. national security adviser said he told Pashinian that the Trump administration will enforce U.S. sanctions against Tehran “very vigorously” and that that the Armenian-Iranian border is “going to be a significant issue.”
“Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process,” he said. “So I think conversation between the government of Armenia and the United States is going to be very important.”
Bolton has strongly supported Trump’s controversial decision to pull out of an international deal on Iran’s nuclear program and to re-impose the economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic earlier this year.
Like the other world powers that signed it -- France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China -- Armenia continues to support the 2015 deal. Yerevan has made clear that it will press ahead with joint economic projects with Tehran.
Bolton also noted that a large community of Armenian-American citizens in the U.S. makes Armenia’s “prospects for closer economic cooperation" with the U.S. private sector "very real" and "much better for the long term than government-to-government assistance."
"I think this is a time to be optimistic that Armenia can emerge more on the world stage," Bolton said, stressing that the Trump administration "considers the South Caucasus a very important area strategically" and that improving relations with Armenia is "a very high priority."