By Armen Zakarian
A visiting representative of NATO met with President Robert Kocharian and other top officials in Yerevan Thursday to discuss the alliance’s expanding cooperation with Armenia which will soon be formalized with an “individual partnership action plan,” or IPAP.
Robert Simmons, NATO’s recently appointed special representative to the South Caucasus and Central Asia, said the cooperation framework will further boost what he described as a “very active relationship.”
“We at NATO are very glad that Armenia has decided to begin an IPAP and we think it will offer a significant step ahead in relations between the alliance and Armenia,” he told reporters after the talks. “At the core of those is the fact that Armenia, as a partner, is contributing to NATO activities in the struggle against the threats we face together: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states.”
The Armenian government set up last year an interagency group tasked with making proposals and working with NATO officials on the IPAP. Its permanent representative at the NATO headquarters, Samvel Mkrtchian, told RFE/RL last week that the action plan will be unveiled “soon.”
A military alliance with Russia has been the bedrock of Armenia’s national security doctrine since independence. Still, Kocharian’s administration, mindful of Russia’s dwindling influence in the region, increasingly tries to complement it with closer links with NATO and the United States in particular. Meeting with Simmons, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian described those relations as “an integral component of Armenia’s security” and said his government will continue to “deepen” them.
Simmons confirmed that Yerevan itself will decide how far it wants to go in forging closer ties with the U.S.-led military bloc. “It’s not for us, it’s for Armenia to decide when they are ready to make their [IPAP] presentation at NATO and NATO will go through the process of approving that document,” he said.
The envoy also sought to guard against excessive expectations from the plan. “IPAP is not a magic step that begins a whole bunch of new programs,” he said. “In fact, there are many ongoing programs in the partnership with Armenia and IPAP will put them together in a package.”
Neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan have already developed similar individual plans that put their participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program on a higher level. Both countries view NATO membership as a long-term foreign policy goal.
Simmons reiterated the alliance’s position that while keeping its doors open to any country that meets its political and military criteria, NATO does not intend to start accession talks with any of the South Caucasus states in the near future. “Right now all three countries are trying to make the most of partnerships that they have with NATO,” he said.
Sarkisian said on Thursday that a key problem hampering Armenia’s cooperation with NATO is the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. “If we had no unresolved conflict, we would be able to have a greater participation in [NATO] programs,” he was quoted by his press service as telling Simmons.
Simmons made it clear that the alliance does not aspire to any mediating role in the long-running Karabakh peace talks sponsored by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“We follow those discussions and the [NATO] secretary general has charged me as his representative to the region to keep him informed of developments in those discussions,” he said. “But we are not an active participant in the negotiations.”