Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon also criticized the Armenian authorities’ handling of the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan after holding what he called “excellent and productive talks” with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.
“I have only been in office for two weeks, but it seemed to me that there are such important and even historic developments going on in Armenia and the region that I should try to come out here as soon as possible,” Gordon told journalists before proceeding to Georgia.
Armenia -- US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon (L) meets Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan on 09Jun2009
According to official Armenian sources, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement were high on the agenda of his Yerevan talks. Also discussed was the current state of U.S.-Armenian relations. Sarkisian was quoted by his office as telling the visiting U.S. diplomat that his government finds their expansion “extremely important.”
Speaking at an ensuing news conference, Gordon reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for the year-long fence-mending negotiations between Armenia and Turkey and an unconditional normalization of their relations. “Turkey-Armenia normalization would benefit Turkey, it would benefit Armenia and it would benefit the entire region. Because of that we don’t think it should be linked to anything else,” he said, commenting on Turkish leaders’ renewed linkage between the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.
Gordon stressed that normalization “should proceed within a reasonable time frame.” “It means the process can’t be infinite,” he said. “It can’t go on forever. I think the parties understand that.”
“It’s not for me to tell the parties exactly what that means,” added the U.S. official. “But I think both sides do appreciate that they need to move forward, and I think they are, and I think they will.”
In a May 28 interview with RFE/RL, Gordon’s deputy Matthew Bryza likewise insisted that recent statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan do not preclude the implementation of a U.S.-brokered “roadmap” to improving Turkish-Armenian relations that was announced by the two governments in late April. Erdogan has repeatedly stated that his country will not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia and open the Turkish-Armenian border as long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved.
Speaking after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington late last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara remains “fully committed to our normalization process with Armenia.” “We're well aware that this is difficult,” Clinton said, for her part. “It requires patience and perseverance.”
Gordon also discussed with Sarkisian and Nalbandian U.S. economic assistance to Armenia under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. Some of that assistance worth $236 million has been suspended by Washington because of Yerevan’s poor democracy and human rights records.
A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian briefed Gordon on “steps taken by the Armenian authorities to implement democratic reforms.” It did not specify whether those steps include the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan condemned as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition.
Gordon indicated that the U.S. does not consider the polls free and fair. “The results were only tallied up a couple of days ago, and so we don’t have a formal statement or judgment right now,” he said. “But I have heard reports of irregularities and problems with the election. That wasn’t up to the standard that we would like to see.”
Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan also present at the news conference, said a more detailed U.S. assessment of the polls based on the findings of U.S. Embassy observers will be released “in the next couple of days.” “We saw a number of instances of irregularities, fraud, and intimidation not only in one or two districts but throughout the city during voting and also during the count,” she said.
Gordon at the same time disapproved of the decision by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) not to take up its seats Yerevan’s new municipal council in protest against the alleged vote rigging. “Even imperfect election would be a better result if those who were asked to serve are able to do so,” he said.