YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–During his short visit to Armenia on December 15–US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Armenian president–the defense and foreign ministries. Rumsfeld told journalists that "We have discussed our respective roles and responsibilities with respect to the war on terrorism," and with the NATO "Partnership for peace" program.
The Secretary of Defense expressed optimism that during the next two weeks the Congress will make a decision concerning Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act which–he said–will open ways for "establishing favorable Armenian-American military relations."
Donald Rumsfeld thanked Armenia for its quick reaction to America’s calls for cooperation in anti-terrorism struggle and for providing it with air space. "We expressed our willingness to contribute to anti-terrorism actions and decided that after the decision of the US Congress is made we shall talk specifically about our cooperation," Defense Minister Serge Sarkissian told journalists.
Kocharian said Armenia is watching the situation in Afghanistan closely and would like to see an end to the war soon. Asked what kind of assistance Armenia would like to get from the United States–Sarkissian said: "We’d like to continue the programs that already exist. First of all it involves officers’ training and establishing a center educating officers on technology needed to deactivate mines. We would also like to receive assistance to modernize our communication system.
Rumsfeld ending his brief visit to Yerevan as part of a two day tour of the South Caucasus states–said he had "very good discussions" with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian officials on the US military action in Afghanistan and ways of deepening bilateral defense ties. He had similar talks in Azerbaijan earlier in the day and in Georgia where he arrived late on Saturday.
Rumsfeld also touched upon the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty. He believes that this will help to curb arms proliferation. Rumsfeld said that by declaring this–President Bush reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons to 1,700. At the same time–he said that President Bush agreed that the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "The world should be more concerned about arms proliferation," said Rumsfeld.
While in Yerevan–Rumsfeld also discussed use of $4.3 million in military assistance to Armenia allocated by Congress last month. Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian said the Armenian military would like to use the aid for training its personnel–modernizing its communication facilities and completing construction of a "de-mining center."
US lawmakers earmarked the funds in an effort to address Armenian concerns over the lifting of Section 907. The 1992 sanctions have also stymied Washington’s defense links with Armenia because of the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. An amendment to the legislation agreed by a congressional "conference committee" last month allows Bush to freeze Section 907 if he deems US military ties will help the US war on terrorism and contribute to Azerbaijan’s border security.
Azerbaijan President Hayder Aliyev said earlier on Saturday that the amendmen’s will be a "very good Christmas present" for the mainly Muslim nation. He expressed disappointment that it was not already formally entered into force. "I was hoping that when you arrived you would say it had already been waived," the 78-year old leader told Rumsfeld–according to Agence France Presse.
Rumsfeld said that he was glad to be the first US defense secretary to visit Azerbaijan–adding that Baku occupied a strategic position from a geographical point of view.
The US defense chief–for its part–was quoted by news agencies as expressing hope that the waiver "will be the beginning of improved cooperations between our two countries." He also thanked Aliyev for the "spontaneous concern and expression of support of support your country has offered to the war on terrorism."
According to Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Safar Abiyev–US and Azeri defense officials will be meeting in the coming weeks to thrash out what forms the new military cooperation would take.
It should be noted that this has been the first visit of the Pentagon’s Chief to Armenia in the history of the relations between the two countries.