YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s membership in Russian-led military and economic blocs does not prevent it from forging closer links with the United States and the European Union, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, Richard Mills, said on Tuesday.
In a speech delivered in the Armenian capital, he also commended the Armenian authorities for complying with international sanctions against neighboring Iran “at some cost” to the South Caucasus nation’s economy.
Mills emphasized Washington’s recognition of Armenia’s “strong, historical ties” with Russia as he addressed members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia (AmCham).
“I believe, as I think most Armenians do, that this strong Armenian-Russian relationship, and Armenia’s memberships in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), should not and do not preclude Armenia from also pursuing strong, mutually beneficial relations with the United States, the European Union, and other potential partners, as well as with organizations like NATO and the Council of Europe,” he declared. “These relationships are not mutually exclusive. It is not a zero sum world.”
Armenian leaders have repeatedly made similar statements since President’s Serzh Sarkisian announced two years ago his unexpected decision to join the EEU. The Sarkisian administration will soon start negotiating with the EU over a new agreement meant to deepen Armenia’s political and economic ties with the EU.
Official Yerevan is also continuing to seek closer cooperation with the U.S. in various areas, including defense and security. Sarkisian praised the U.S. role in “maintaining regional security and stability” when he visited Washington in May.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of a “dynamic and expanding agenda” between the two countries in a congratulatory message sent to his Armenian counterpart in September. Obama also hailed the recent signing of the U.S.-Armenian Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
Under that agreement, the U.S. and Armenian governments have set up a joint Council on Trade and Investment that will meet at least once a year to address obstacles to bilateral trade and explore other ways of deepening U.S.-Armenian economic ties.
Mills announced that the council will hold its first meeting in Yerevan on November 17. “We will discuss key trade topics related to customs, intellectual property rights, non-tariff trade barriers, and government procurement,” he said.
In his speech, Mills also addressed Armenia’s cordial relationship with Iran, which remains one of its two commercial conduits to the outside world due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “The U.S. government recognizes and appreciates how Armenia has worked to respect the international community’s sanctions on Iran over the years, at some cost to Armenia and its economy,” he said in that regard.
“This was a meaningful sign of how seriously Armenia takes its role in the larger international community,” added the U.S. diplomat.
The economic sanctions are expected to be gradually lifted as a result of Iran’s recent landmark agreement with the U.S. and other world powers to end a long-running dispute over the controversial Iranian nuclear program. Yerevan has welcomed that deal, saying that it will help to speed up the implementation of more Armenian-Iranian energy projects.