Rice Praises ‘Healing Reforms’ in Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised President Serzh Sarkisian for his efforts to end Armenia’s post-election political crisis and improve its relations with Turkey as they met in New York late Wednesday.

In her opening remarks at the meeting released by the U.S. State Department, Rice spoke of “healing reforms” which she believes have been initiated by Sarkisian since the aftermath of the Armenian presidential election. “We believe that you have made some good steps to address this, and so I’m here to build on that and to move forward,” she said.

Sarkisian, for his part, thanked the United States for its “financial assistance and non-financial help” to Armenia. “They are both important,” he said at the start of the talks held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Ever since he took office on April 9, Sarkisian has been under pressure from the U.S. and other Western powers to end his predecessor Robert Kocharian’s harsh crackdown on the Armenian opposition. The crackdown has involved mass arrests and the use of lethal force against opposition demonstrators demanding a re-run of the February 19 presidential election which Washington has described as “significantly flawed.”

In a statement, Sarkisian’s office quoted Rice as saying that the steps taken by the new Armenian president create a “good basis” for the continuation of US aid. The statement said the two also spoke about U.S.-led international efforts to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Sarkisian reaffirming his declared commitment to a “compromise solution.”

Visiting Baku and Yerevan earlier this month, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza indicated that the OSCE’s Minsk Group, which he co-heads together with senior Russian and French diplomats, will step up its efforts to broker a framework peace agreement on Karabakh before the end of this year. Bryza and the two other co-chairs met Sarkisian in New York earlier on Wednesday. Sarkisian’s office said they discussed the possibility of arranging another meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents.

Armenia’s rapprochement with Turkey was also on the agenda of Rice talks Sarkisian. According to the latter’s press service, Rice welcomed Yerevan’s overtures to Ankara and expressed hope that Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s historic visit to Armenia will lead to the normalization of relations between the two neighboring states.

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