Defense Minister Says Authorities Feel Confident

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–In an extensive interview with the Russian language semi-weekly Golos Armenii Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian brushes aside allegations that there is an increasing inter-government fighting ahead of 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections. "The authorities feel confident more than ever as there is a movement ahead," he said.

Minister Sarkisian then downplayed reports that Russia has reviewed its geopolitical objectives in the Southern Caucasus and no longer regards Armenia as its strategic partner–although it has a military base in Armenia.

"This is not true as how one can explain the deployment of the Russian military base and joint patrolling of Armenian borders. Why then Russia has signed strategic agreemen’s and created a joint military grouping with Armenia–which entered into force July 1," he said.

"It is true that many top Russian officials have become more pragmatic and the desire of Russian economic entities to strike deals–particularly–with Armenia on favorable terms is quite natural. The same approach is true with regard to Armenian government and Armenian businessmen."

"It is well known that after the USSR fell apart Azerbaijan got three times more weapons and 15 times more ammunition than Armenia–but if you ask 100 Armenian citizens about it–only one knows about it. It was though because there were more former Soviet military units deployed in Azerbaijan than in Armenia," Sarkisian said–adding that there will no be changes in the strategic Russian-Armenian cooperation in the visible future.

In a reference to the delayed finalization of a deal christened "Assets for Debts" by which Armenia is supposed to pay off its virtually $100 million debt to Moscow by transferring several Armenian enterprises to it–the minister says that the point is that Russia’s want to take hold of them at prices as cheaper as possible–whereas Armenia wants the opposite.

"There are no grounds for serious concerns and I believe that the deal will be soon finalized (Sarkisian is a co-chairmen of a Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission which deals with this issue). "The ‘Assets for Debts’ deal for me is first of all of the political importance than of economic in terms of further integration with Russia–creation of new jobs and so on," Sarkisian said.

In response to a question about the ongoing October 27 trial involving the five terrorist who mowed down eight top government officials in 1999 parliamentary attack Sarkisian says that he will refrain from commen’s–though the opposition tries to implicate his involvement in the bloody plot–until the end of the trial.

Sarkisian also says that Armenia does not strive to become a NATO member. "Our relations with NATO (particularly within the framework of Partnership for Peace Program) are supplementing our relations with Russia and we welcome the apparent rapprochement between NATO and Russia. "Best Cooperative Efforts-2003 exercises–held under the NATO-sponsorship are scheduled to take place in Armenia and I believe that Armenia’s military policy is balanced and reasonable," he says.

In a reference to improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations Sarkisian says that he is not very optimistic–"but judging from some information and what the analysts say some chill might be taken off by the end of the year–however I am a bit pessimistic about a tangible breakthrough in this issue–as Turkey does not seem to be keen on introducing a change in its tough positions–regarding improvement of relations with its neighbor–making it contingent on Armenian-Azeri relationship.

Also speaking about the revived activity of the former ruling regime of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Pan-Armenian National Movement’s to come back to big politics–Sarkisian says it is natural for any party–but adds that the party has practically no chances to succeed. He also describes as not serious allegations that superpowers seek their candidates for 2003 presidential elections.

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