Tomsen Assesses Sarkissian’s US Visit

YEREVAN-US Ambassador to Armenia Peter Tomsen–who accompanied Armenian Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian during his working visit to the United States–discussed the recent trip during a press conference on Monday.

Tomsen told reporters that US-Armenia relations–since 1991 when Armenia declared independence–have been exceptional–with relations reaching their pinnacle in 1994. Tomsen–said that both Sarkissian and Gore–have just begun their new terms in office.

According to Tomsen–Sarkissian surprisingly was warmly received everywhere he went to discuss economic and political issues. During all his meetings–including with Vice-President Al Gore–Sarkissian received pledges of commitment to the process of democratic development in Armenia.

In addition to meeting with the vice-president–Sarkissian met with cabinet members–the national security advisor–high- ranking State Department officials and members of Congress. He also met with US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Thomas Pickering.

Tomsen described the visit as very successful–pointing to the $30 million the United States will give to Armenia to import natural gas. According to Tomsen–importing contracts for gas from Turkmen’stan will be awarded on a competitive basis. The project– which was scheduled to begin in the second half of 1997–will begin in April as a result of Sarkissian’s insistence–Tomsen said.

The US will allocate an additional $1 million under the terms of a scientific research agreement signed by Sarkissian–the ambassador said–adding that bilateral cooperation in this sphere is very important since both countries are scientifically advanced.

With regard to the prime minister’s meeting at the World Bank–Tomsen said that US officials have pledged to negotiate with World Bank leaders on Armenia’s behalf in order to secure a loan– eventhough Armenia does not meet certain specifications. The World Bank loan might be in the neighborhood of $60 million–Tomsen noted.

In addition–Vice-President Gore pledged to support Armenia’s bid for membership in the World Trade Organization– according to Tomsen. As for his meetings with the leadership of the ExIm Bank–Ambassador Tomsen said that Sarkissian left Washington–DC with a preliminary agreement on a number of loans.

A group of US taxation experts will arrive in Armenia in March to hold talks on reforming the country’s tax system and ways to avoid double taxation–Tomsen said.

Sarkissian and Tomsen also visited a number of financial institutions while in Washington and met with potential investors. Tomsen pointed to a US oil exploration project in Armenia as one of the successes of Sarkissian’s visit. Energy Minister Gagik Martirossian announced the plans several days ago–Tomsen said.

In discussing US aid to Armenia–Tomsen said it will be maintained at about the same level-$140-150 million-with most of the aid directed at industrial development. Twenty-five million dollars will be allocated for developing a number of enterprises– and about $6 million will be allocated for safety upgrades at Armenia’s Medzamor nuclear power plant. US humanitarian and developmental assistance will continue as usual–Tomsen said. The US-donated kerosene helps heat 1,500 schools and 210 households– he said–adding that 100,000 tons of wheat will be shipped soon.

In response to the political issues discussed during Sarkissian’s visit–Tomsen said that bilateral relations do also entail a political nature–and such issues do become a topic of discussion–and may be held separately–such as Iran-Armenia relations which is a separate issue entirely. There are issues– although very few–where the two sides [US and Armenia] do not agree–such as Iran-Armenia relations. However–there are no pre- conditions to bilateral political relations–nor has Armenia undertaken any obligations in return for US aid–he said–adding that the United States has a history of extending assistance to countries with positions contrary to those of the US–such as Russia–Ukraine and other Commonwealth of Independent States members.

With regard to Karabakh–Tomsen reiterated the US position that the sides to the conflict must be ready for dialogue and concessions. Negotiations cannot result in one side’s 100 percent satisfaction–Tomsen said. Three fundamental principles were brought forth during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Lisbon summit–all of which correspond to an outlook of a peaceful resolution the conflict–the ambassador said. He then outlined the guiding principles discussed in Lisbon in December: The territorial integrity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan must be maintained; the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh must be determined on the basis of self-determination and the broadest autonomy within Azerbaijan; and the resolution must be acceptable to all sides to the conflict.

According to Tomsen–the US pledged its commitment to the resolution of the Karabakh conflict and has adopted a non-partisan position.

Tomsen noted that US has foreign policy cannot be altered to serve oil interests. There are other economic issues to consider– he said. A successful implementation of economic development projects are vital to regional peace and stability–according to the ambassador. Besides–the region occupies a strategic position in North-South relations and the United States–being a unbiased mediator–cannot promote the interests of any one side–he added.

A Danish delegation is expected to arrive in Nagorno- Karabakh in the near future to make a number of proposals regarding the resolution of the conflict–according to the US ambassador.

In addition–the US has close working relations with high- ranking Russian diplomats regarding the Karabakh issue–he said.

Responding to allegations that Sarkissian was pressured into holding early parliamentary elections–Tomsen said that the question was asked a number of times during his meetings–but the United States does not interfere in an issue that is the exclusive domain of Armenia’s.

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