BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Not since the failed and dangerous Turkey-Armenia Protocols has the United States been so keen on pressuring Armenia to adapt to American priorities in the region.
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s trip last week to Armenia, where he offered to sell arms and urged the government to take “decisive” steps regarding Karabakh, signals yet another attempt by Washington to coerce—or threaten—Yerevan to alter its priorities in favor of advancing U.S. interests in the region.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills set the groundwork in his farewell interview with EVN Report, where he said that territorial concessions by Armenia are an inevitable part of the peace process and while Armenia was free to pursue its own independent foreign policy, it would behoove Yerevan to toe Washington’s line when it came to regional issues.
Bolton’s bold offer to sell arms to Armenia not only would tip the balance of parity in the region, it would also pit Armenia directly against Russia, which has been Armenia’s main arms supplier. Hence, it is ironic that Bolton would call Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan and Armenia disruptive and unproductive for the Karabakh peace process and yet offer both countries to buy arms from the United States without presenting guarantees that such a transaction, which until now has not been on the table, would not create an imbalance in the region.
Given the size of Azerbaijan’s military budget, such a proposal would be dangerous and would bolster Azerbaijan’s political sway with the Trump administration.
Bolton’s suggestion that the hard-fought Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act could be repealed is also a signal that the U.S. will stop at nothing to advance its shortsighted agenda in the region, regardless of the fallout. Section 907 is an amendment to the post-Soviet US assistance effort advanced by the Armenian National Committee of America and its wide grassroots network, restricting aid to Azerbaijan and Turkey until they lifted their blockades of Armenia. Since 9/11, however, successive U.S. administrations have suspended portions of Section 907, but largely have maintained the provisions about military assistance to Azerbaijan. Bolton’s offer to repeal the mandate all together would not only play into Baku’s military opportunism, but it would also give Azerbaijan a carte blanche to do as it sees fit in the region.
“The ANCA will continue to press for strict enforcement of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which – as a matter of law, currently waived by the Administration – restricts certain forms of direct U.S. assistance, including offensive military hardware, to the Azerbaijani government. In light of Baku’s escalating aggression, the ANCA calls upon the White House to discontinue its Section 907 waivers and urges Congress to roll back its waiver authority for this law. Parallel to Section 907 enforcement issues, the ANCA is carefully tracking potential arms export control violations related to Azerbaijan, including the third-party sourcing of sensitive U.S. equipment, software, and services for drones and other weapons systems,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian on Thursday immediately following Bolton’s remarks.
“We will continue to demand accountability for Azerbaijan’s aggression, and back continued U.S. funding for vitally needed humanitarian and developmental programs in Artsakh,” added Hamparian.
Of course at the center of the United States’ renewed interest in the region is the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and White House’s determination to squeeze Iran both politically and economically. In Bolton’s view a swift resolution to the Karabakh conflict would isolate Iran in the region and would provide the U.S. much-needed leverage at a hefty cost to Armenia.
It just happened that the popular movement in Armenia that overthrew the previous regime and the White House’s increasing hard line toward Iran happened at the same time, prompting Washington to believe that the new regime in Armenia presented an opening for the United States to swoop in and assert its position on Yerevan, despite the fact that during the entire conflict resolution process, the United States had always advocated for a resolution that would benefit, above all else, Azerbaijan.
Bolton offered the Trump Administration’s support for the changes in Armenia. He saw the upcoming parliamentary elections as a decisive moment for the U.S. to advance its policies in the region.
Instead of seeing the changes in Armenia as an opportunity to bolster bilateral economic, political, and military relations with Armenia by proposing concrete measures, such as instituting a new double-tax treaty, which could increase U.S. economic investment in Armenia, Bolton—and Mills as a foreshadower—went for the jugular and in a heavy-handed manner threatened Armenia to comply with Washington’s wishes. It would have been more productive to engage Armenia’s leaders in a dialogue to advance U.S.-Armenia relations on all fronts and as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group advance a more cooperative agenda.
So, it was heartening that Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Saturday directly addressed Bolton’s comment by saying “The entity that will or will not resolve the Karabakh issue is the Armenian Nation, and specifically the people of Armenia, the people of Artsakh and in this case also the Diaspora, because this is a Pan-Armenian issue.”
It is time for the United States to stop advancing a policy in the region that will only benefit Azerbaijan—a military dictatorship—and begin advancing issues such as the people’s right to self-determination—a vanguard and guiding principle of America’s forefathers.