YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — The U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said today in Yerevan that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s victory in the upcoming early parliamentary elections, slated for December 10, would give him a strong mandate for taking decisive steps.
Speaking at a news conference, he said if public opinion forecasts appeared to be true, after the elections, Nikol Pashinian would have a very strong mandate to implement a series of decisive steps for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
He said the Karabakh settlement remains one of the priority issues of the Armenian foreign policy agenda, stressing that if the resolution of this issue were easy, it would have been settled long time ago. Bolton added that his visit to the region was not a signal for a change in the US policy on this issue.
“The parties to the conflict should continue to look for solutions together,’ he said recalling former US Secretary of State James Baker’s words that no one wants more peace than the parties to the conflict themselves.
He said the parties could discuss various proposals, and there should be no restrictions for them and if a proposal is submitted, that does not mean that it must necessarily be accepted.
An Armenian government statement on Pashinian’s meeting with Bolton said both men stressed the importance of “consistent” efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Karabakh dispute. They also agreed on the need for creating “the right atmosphere for the negotiation process,” the statement added without elaborating.
Bolton arrived in Yerevan from Baku where he discussed the conflict with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday. He said in the Azerbaijani capital that Washington will continue to support a peaceful Karabakh settlement.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Bolton said that a Karabakh peace would greatly help Armenia’s struggling economy as it would lead to open borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. It is also “the surest way to reduce an excessive outside influence in Armenia,” he said in a clear reference to Russia, Armenia’s main political and military ally.
Commenting on potential security alternatives for Armenia, Bolton, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this week, spoke of possible U.S. arms sales to Yerevan.
“We have restrictions Congress has imposed on the United States in terms of [weapons] sales to Azerbaijan and Armenia because of the conflict, but there are exceptions to that,” Bolton explained.
“As I said to the prime minister, if it’s a question of buying Russian military equipment versus buying U.S. military equipment, we’d prefer the latter,” he said. “We think our equipment is better than the Russians’ anyway.
“So we want to look at that. And I think it increases Armenia’s options when it’s not entirely dependent on one major power.”
Relations with Iran, a key neighbor of Armenia, were also on the agenda of Bolton’s talks with Pashinian. The U.S. national security adviser said he told Pashinian that the Trump administration will enforce U.S. sanctions against Tehran “very vigorously” and that that the Armenian-Iranian border is “going to be a significant issue.”
“Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process,” he said. “So I think conversation between the government of Armenia and the United States is going to be very important.”
Bolton also noted that a large community of Armenian-American citizens in the U.S. makes Armenia’s “prospects for closer economic cooperation” with the U.S. private sector “very real” and “much better for the long term than government-to-government assistance.”
“I think this is a time to be optimistic that Armenia can emerge more on the world stage,” Bolton said, stressing that the Trump administration “considers the South Caucasus a very important area strategically” and that improving relations with Armenia is “a very high priority.”