YEREVAN—The Nagorno-Karabakh issue creates fundamental difficulties in US relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan, said a senior Pentagon official Wednesday in an interview with RFE/RL, reported the Armenian section of that service.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander said that the US cannot ignore that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an important issue for Armenia and Azerbaijan.
She explained that the Defense Department focuses on specifically on realms where the US can have constructive and effective input in both countries, which will allow them to enlarge their role in the strengthening of international security.
Wallender said in the RFE/RL interview that close defense links with Russia do not impede Armenia’s growing military cooperation with NATO and the United States in particular.
She called that cooperation “very effective” as she ended a two-day visit to Yerevan late on Tuesday.
“Of course, we are always looking for more but we are very happy to support programs that Armenia has chosen to invest in. It’s really helpful,” Wallander told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in the interview.
“There isn’t necessarily a tradeoff,” she said, commenting on implications of Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. “Armenia has relationships with a number of countries. We don’t see that as any kind of obstacle to working with us bilaterally or working within NATO.”
The military alliance with Russia remains the cornerstone of Armenia’s national security strategy. Nevertheless, the current and previous Armenian governments have increasingly sought to complement it with closer security ties with the West.
“Since I have been responsible for defense cooperation for Armenia we have expanded the number of events and we have begun to focus on more strategic and long-term objectives in terms of building Armenia’s defense cooperation capacity,” Wallander said. “We have increased the number of events and exercises that Armenia participates in.
“Very soon we will be having discussions in Washington on our plans for the next year, on how the United States can further support Armenia’s strategic defense review which the government recently finished.”
“So I think that we have a good foundation of cooperation already, and as we are moving forward, opportunities are growing and we really welcome that,” added the U.S. official.
A large part of the U.S. military assistance allocated to Armenia over the past decade has been channeled into an Armenian army brigade that provides troops for ongoing U.S.-led multinational missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Wallander thanked Yerevan for its participation in those missions during talks with President Serzh Sarkisian, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. She promised more U.S. financial support for the country’s peacekeeping capacity.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Wallander also pointed to Armenia’s “very substantial and well-qualified military medicine corps.” “We’ve already worked on improving their equipment and their capabilities and we would like to continue to do that because that becomes a very important aspect of support for international operations,” she said.
The U.S. military donated a mobile field hospital to a medical unit of the brigade in 2007. A senior U.S. diplomat said at the time that the $1.2 million donation is meant to facilitate “future Armenian military deployments with coalition or NATO forces.”