Top US Official Sees ?Excellent Cooperation? With Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A senior United States government official on Tuesday described as "excellent" America’s relations with Armenia as she held talks with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders in Yerevan at the end of a tour of several former Soviet states. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Elizabeth Jones said bilateral relations and regional security–including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–were on the agenda of her meetings in the Armenian capital. She urged the conflicting parties to build on the progress made at the peace talks in Paris and the Florida resort of the Key West earlier this year.

"There was a tremendous amount of progress on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue at Key West," Jones told reporters after the meeting with Kocharian. "We think that both sides should build on the progress made in Key West."

Jones said after talks with the Azeri leadership in Baku Monday that Washington is still "hopeful" that the parties will be able to reach a solution this year. "I’m always hopeful–that’s my job to be hopeful," she reiterated in Yerevan–refusing to reveal the next steps of the American–French and Russian negotiators spearheading the peace process.

The process appears to have stalled since the cancellation of a crucial Armenian-Azeri summit in Geneva scheduled for mid-June. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Tuesday again implicitly accused Baku of backtracking on agreemen’s reached at Paris and Key West. Yerevan insists that Kocharian and his Azeri counterpart–Haydar Aliyev–agreed on the main points of a peace deal on Karabakh in the French capital in March.

"If Aliyev agrees to return to the Paris framework–I think that serious progress will become possible," Oskanian told RFE/RL after separate talks with the top US official.

In a remark reflecting the mediators’ concerns regarding recent bellicose statemen’s by Armenian and especially Azeri politicians–Jones called on the parties to rule out renewed fighting. She said: "The most important thing to keep in mind is that there can be and should be no military solution to this conflict."

Aliyev and other Azeri leaders increasingly warn that they will resort to military action to regain control of Karabakh if the peace negotiations do not lead to the restoration of Baku’s sovereignty over the disputed territory. Aliyev told on Saturday hundreds of newly trained Azeri army officers to be ready for another war with the Armenia’s.

Jones–turning to bilateral US-Armenian relations–said her "very productive discussions" in Yerevan focused on continued American assistance for the ongoing political and economic reforms in Armenia. According to her–American policy on Armenia will undergo no major changes under President George Bush. "There may be an adjustment here or there–but fundamentally the US support for Armenia–for the reforms that are underway here and the support for the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is very much the same," she said.

Speaking to RFE/RL earlier in the day–Jones said: "We have excellent cooperation and are very grateful for that." Kocharian likewise was quoted by his press service as expressing his satisfaction with the current state of US-Armenian ties and their "dynamic development."

Armenia is a leading per capita recipient of US government assistance–which has exceeded one billion dollars over the past ten years.

The United States is ready to offer political support to Azerbaijan and financial aid to its border guards if tensions increase with neighboring Iran over the Caspian Sea–Jones said Monday while visiting Baku

American assistance would first of all be in the form of political support–added Jones in Baku. Washington could also provide Azerbaijan aid for border guards and customs officers in order to strengthen its borders and fight weapons and drug smuggling. Jones held talks with Azeri President Haydar Aliyev and other officials Sunday and Monday before departing for the neighboring Georgia and Armenia.

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