US Pledges Further Support to Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States will continue to assist Armenia in its transition to democracy and market economy but Yerevan should seek "normal relationships" with all of its neighbors if it is to succeed–the US ambassador to Armenia’said on Friday.

The recently appointed Ambassador Michael Lemmon told reporters in Yerevan that an internationally-brokered solution to the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh dispute should be acceptable to all of the conflicting parties.

"The United States is committed to Armenia’s success and prosperity as a free market democracy," Lemmon said. "But if Armenia is going to develop economically–it is essential that it develop more normal relations with all of its neighbors–including Turkey," he said. "It is now time for both Armenia and Turkey to consider what steps might be taken to build a stronger bilateral relationship. We urge them to heal their wounds."

The ambassador urged the Armenian and Azeri sides to show "discretion and restraint" when issuing public statemen’s on the issue. Yerevan and the leadership of Karabakh insist that the disputed territory be granted "unconventional" status which may fall short of outright independence but should rule out any "subordination" to Baku. Azerbaijan–for its part–has expressed readiness to give Karabakh a "high degree" of autonomy.

Lemmon further said on Friday that Washington’s main interest in the region is to see peace and stability established there–welcoming Armenia’s involvement in regional economic programs. He said international efforts to promote economic cooperation and integration in the Trancaucasus "will be increasingly important for Armenia’s development and we encourage cooperation between Armenia and its neighbors."

He hailed the recent formation of joint Armenian-Georgian commissions on transport and energy–adding that Washington considers financing economic cooperation between the two neighbors. He said "possible" new American projects may involve an upgrading of regional roads and railways "with the ultimate aim of connecting Armenia to the emerging East-West transport corridor."

Last September–Armenia’sent a high-level delegation to Baku to attend an international conference on the European Union’s TRACECA project–an ambitious plan revive ancient trade routes between Europe and Central Asia via the Transcaucasus.

Asked about the state of political reform in Armenia–Lemmon said he sees "steady forward progress" in democratization. He expressed hope that leading political forces in Armenia will reach a consensus on a new electoral legislation which will be "vitally important for fully free and democratic elections."

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