BY EMIL DANIELYAN
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL)—Senior U.S. and Armenian military officials were due to begin on Tuesday two-day discussions in Washington on ways of further expanding defense links between their countries.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry said it will be represented at the “bilateral defense consultations” by First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan and other officials accompanying him.
A short statement issued by the ministry said the Armenian delegation will discuss with senior Pentagon officials “issues relating to U.S.-Armenian defense cooperation.” It did not elaborate on the agenda of the talks.
According to the statement, Tonoyan will meet with U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander.
Wallander visited Yerevan and met with Armenia’s top political and military leaders late last month. She commended them for sending Armenian troops to Afghanistan and Kosovo and broadening military ties with the United States.
“Very soon we will be having discussions in Washington on our plans for the next year, on how the United States can further support Armenia’s strategic defense review which the government recently finished,” Wallander told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on June 28.
The review is part of ongoing defense reforms which are envisaged by Armenia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO launched in 2005. They are supposed to bring the Armenian military into greater conformity with U.S. and NATO standards.
Meeting with Wallander, President Serzh Sarkisian praised the U.S. engagement with Armenia and the rest of the region and reaffirmed Yerevan’s plans to step up cooperation with NATO.
Wallander insisted that a military alliance with Russia does not impede that cooperation. “We don’t see that as any kind of obstacle to working with us bilaterally or working within NATO,” she said in her interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The talks in Washington will also likely touch upon U.S. military assistance to Armenia, which is due to total $12 million this year. A large part of that aid has been channeled into an Armenian army brigade that provides troops for ongoing U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Armenia sent an additional 81 soldiers to Afghanistan less than a month ago, almost tripling its contribution to a NATO-led multinational force stationed there. Another 80 Armenian troops are serving under NATO command in Kosovo.