WASHINGTON (RFE/RL)–The United States expects to maintain a “strong” relationship with Armenia even after the signing of a new and potentially far-reaching Russian-Armenian defense agreement, the U.S. State Department said late Wednesday.
“I think we’d view it as a bilateral issue between Russia and Armenia,” Mark Toner, a department spokesman, said, commenting on the deal that extended and upgraded Russian military presence in the South Caucasus state.
“Obviously, the United States enjoys a strong partnership with Armenia. We have every expectation that this will continue,” he told a daily press briefing in Washington.
Asked about Azerbaijan’s apparent unease over the Russian-Armenian pact, Toner lauded Moscow’s “constructive role” in the long-running international efforts to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russia co-chairs the OSCE’s Minsk Group on Karabakh together with the United States and France.
Officials in Yerevan were quick to welcome the U.S. reaction to the strengthening of the Russian-Armenian military alliance. A spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, Eduard Sharmazanov, called it “positive and somewhat anticipated.”
“This means that the U.S. is positively reacting to President Serzh Sarkisian’s foreign policy course and underlining its readiness to ensure continuity in forging closer relations with Armenia,” Sharmazanov said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Sarkisian has repeatedly expressed his administration’s desire to strengthen U.S.-Armenian ties, most recently during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s early-July visit to Yerevan. “We have agreed to seek a further strengthening and deepening of our friendly partnership,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said after Clinton’s talks with the Armenian leader.
Sharmazanov also stressed the importance of the State Department’s praise of Moscow’s role in the Karabakh peace process. He construed that as further proof that new peace proposals made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts recently were drafted by all three Minsk Group co-chairs.
Yerevan describes those proposals as “a new variant” of the mediators’ basic principles of a Karabakh settlement and says they are largely acceptable to the Armenian side.
The Azerbaijani government has rejected them, however. It insists that the Russian president drew up the plan single-handedly, without consulting with the two other mediating powers.