Armenian Radio Hour Interviews John Ordway

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey (ARHNJ) hosted an interview on Sunday–January 6 with the US Ambassador to Armenia–John Ordway. Ordway addressed several topics during the interview–including the strengths of the US-Armenia relationship–the prospects of developing a military relationship between the US and Armenia–the status of peace talks–the blockade of Armenia and Karabakh–the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC)–economic issues facing Armenia–and coalitions against terrorism. The full text of the interview–as cited by Groong–is as follows:

John Ordway was sworn in as Ambassador to Armenia on November 16–2001. He is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Prior to becoming Ambassador to Armenia–he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow since 1999–and as political officer in Moscow from 1996 to 1999. Ambassador Ordway was assigned to the US Mission to NATO from 1993 to 1996 and has twice worked on detail to the National Security Council. He worked at the Department of State as Deputy Director of the Office of Soviet Affairs and Deputy Director of the Office of Southern African Affairs. Originally from California–he is a graduate of Stanford University and received his JD from the University of California–Hastings School of Law.

ARHNJ: The events since September 11 have shifted the priorities of many countries–and we do know that the US And Russia are cooperating. You have served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Moscow–and you are aware of the Russian/Armenian cooperation. As the new Ambassador to Armenia–how would you assess this strength of the relationship between the US And Armenia today?

John Ordway: I think you very aptly started with the mention of the events of September 11–and this has shown for all Americans how important it is in this day and age that we be able to count on friends and allies in key places around the world. One of those regions that has been important to us has been the Caucasus. Here–Armenia has played a very useful and helpful role in terms of allowing us overflight for military flights as well as providing intelligence and other support which we have been quite appreciative of. Also–I was particularly struck when–on December 11–the Armenian government organized a commemoration of the events of September 11 in Aznavour Square. It was an unforgettable sight–looking out as the day was growing darker and the moment of exactly three months from the events of September 11 crept up and seeing people lighting candles. It was a good feeling of solidarity that would have made all Americans very happy. More broadly–I think we have an excellent relationship with Armenia these days. We are one of the major donors to Armenia. We have a very good and effective assistance program there that we design and implement in cooperation with the government of Armenia. So in general–I would characterize the relationship as very good and probably with no place to go but to get better.

ARHNJ: During his recent visit to Armenia–US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "we believe we will be able to have a military-to-military relationship with Armenia." With the coalition against terrorism in mind–and also the fact that the US And Armenia are partners in the NATO partnership–what are the prospects of developing military relationships between the US and Armenia? And if you can–comment on how military assistance to Armenia be increased.

J.O.: Well–we have for a number of years not provided any military assistance to Armenia as a matter of policy. This is related to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act which prohibited assistance of any kind to the government of Azerbaijan. One of our key concerns in the region is to assure that there is not a resurgence of the conflict that has erupted over Nagorno-Karabakh. We tried very–very carefully to be extraordinarily balanced in our approach to the two countries in the military area to make sure that we did not give signals of military support to one side or the other. What has now changed is that the provisions of Section 907 are waiveable under recent legislation adopted by Congress. What this has done in the case of Armenia is that it has opened the way to establish a much better–firmer military-to-military relationship including military assistance. This was one of the things that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld did have very general opening discussions with both Minister Sarkisian and President Kocharian when the Secretary was in Armenia. The Congress has allocated four million dollars in military assistance and–I believe–three hundred thousand dollars for military training. We are just in the beginning stages of looking at how exactly he might use those funds–a process of trying to figure out what it is that they are capable of providing–what it is in our interest to provide–and what the Armenian military and the Armenian government want. These discussions will probably be going on for the next several months before we can come up with precise figures or a better idea of exactly how we are going to spend this money. Since this is the first year we have had any appropriation for military assistance for Armenia–I think it is a little premature to talk about increasing it. We are going to have to see how well and effectively we can spend this amount first.

ARHNJ: What is the status of the blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey and Azerbaijan–and what is the status of the peace talks?

J.O.: The situation I think pretty much remains as it has been for quite some time in terms of the closed borders. This is one of the major impedimen’s to economic development in the region and it is something we would very much like to see change. The way in which we have been working recently has been to promote a peaceful–durable–and mutually acceptable resolution of the conflict. Together with our partners in the Minsk Group–France and Russia–we have been very actively engaged with the two presidents and with the two countries. At the moment–the CO-chairs have met recently in the United States and have discussed how to approach this next stage of the process. This consideration is going on–and we will be working with both parties to see what we can do to try to move this conflict towards a resolution–which at the end of the day–can only be a benefit to Armenia and would almost undoubtedly lead to open borders and greater economic opportunities as well as providing a much more predictable and secure environment in the region and one which could lead to greater prosperity and stability for all the countries.

ARHNJ: I am sure you are aware of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Committee (TARC). What is your assessment of TARC?

J.O.: I think that trying to improve the relationship between Armenia and Turkey is a very worthwhile goal and is one clearly that the government of Armenia has in mind as well. There are a whole variety of ways in which we in the United States can be of assistance in trying to make this happen. TARC was an effort to try to use Track 2 diplomacy involving prominent non-officials to try and see what could be done to stimulate this process. I think what happened after the last meeting of TARC is pretty well known–but it does not mean that the process of trying to improve the relationship between the two countries is coming to an end. On the contrary–we are certainly going to be looking for ways in which we can try to do whatever we can to help the two countries improve the relationship.

ARHNJ: Economic issues are of great concern to Armenia. What is the United States doing to improve the economic situation in Armenia–help create jobs–provide economic security–and stop the exodus of Armenia’s from Armenia?

J.O.: There are a number of things that we are very much trying to do–and have been doing over the last several years. The United States has been a major donor to Armenia every since its independence. In the early days–we concentrated very much on providing humanitarian assistance–getting through the very difficult times when people had very basic human needs for food–heat–and shelter. Over the last several years–the focus of our program has shifted to improving the macro-economic climate of Armenia–so we have been working very closely and carefully with the government and other donors and international financial institutions in order to try to design and implement forms that will allow and encourage economic development. Clearly–it is the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector that is going to provide jobs and the prosperity that Armenia needs to keep the population that it has and perhaps even attract some of the recent emigrants over the last decade back to Armenia. We have a variety of programs which range from providing assistance to the government and to the Parliament to designing reform legislation. We have been very active in the energy sector trying to privatize the electrical distribution system. We have a very successful–innovative program that the US Department of Agriculture is implementing which is designed to work with the Armenian agricultural and food-processing sector to improve quality and to improve their marketing techniques so that they can grow and produce high-quality agricultural products and market them. We have a number of other projects aimed at trying to get closer to the grassroots and stimulate economic development.

ARHNJ: You were sworn in as US Ambassador to Armenia on November 16–2001. What have been your experiences with Armenia and the Armenian people over this short period of time?

J.O.: It has probably only been six or seven weeks–but I have done a number of things. I have begun making official calls–I have met with the President and Foreign Minister–I was present when Secretary Rumsfeld met with the Defense Minister–the President–and the Prime Minister. Those are normal ambassadorial things that you do when you get going–and over the next couple months–I will accelerate that process of becoming acquainted with official Armenia. In addition–I have done a bit of tourism and gotten around Yerevan and a few places outside of Yerevan to get a feel for what life is like and what the country looks like. I have also had a couple of very good opportunities to see some of the kinds of things that the American government are doing there. I have opened a couple of well projects where we have gone in and helped small villages reopen wells to provide water for agricultural and drinking purposes. I paid a visit to Gyumri and looked at the kinds of things we are doing up there–in terms of earthquake rehabilitation. I visited a school where a US-financed civics curriculum is in operation and also visited some of the agricultural projects mentioned earlier. I also have tried to get better acquainted with the work that American non-governmental organizations are doing in Armenia–and there are a lot of them. I have begun to go out and meet with them–both the Americans and Armenia’s–to get a sense from them what they accomplish and what their needs are. So basically–everything from government officials to the American community to private ordinary citizens–I have tried to mix it up a little bit in the first few weeks I have been there.

ARHNJ: This weekend–Armenia’s throughout the world will be celebrating Armenian Christmas–and I am sure your words will be a source of hope and optimism for Armenia’s. What would you add in closing?

J.O.: I would certainly wish all Armenian-Americans a very joyful Christmas season and a very happy and prosperous 2002. One of the great advantages of being the US Ambassador to Armenia is the opportunity to get to know the Armenian-American community as well. That is what I am doing over the next week or two. Armenian-Americans are very committed to doing their best to help Armenia develop as a prosperous free market and independent country.

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