YEREVAN.- U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern met on Wednesday with a group of Armenian journalists, participants of “Support to Armenia-Turkey rapprochement” program organized by Eurasia Partnership Foundation and funded by USAID. One of the participants was the Armenian News-NEWS.am correspondent.
Ambassador answered to journalists’ questions on wide range of issues, including the Karabakh peace process, Armenia-Turkey relations and those referring to the parliamentary elections.
Asked about the U.S. attitude towards Azerbaijani aggression taking into account the fact that the US is the only country providing assistance to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Ambassador recalled the recent statement adopted by the leaders of the co-chairing states in Los Cabos.
“What they said was to reiterate that there is only peaceful solution; there can be no military solution to the Karabakh conflict. They called against violence,” he said adding that the same calls were voiced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to Armenia in June.
“The three co-chairs in the negotiations are promoting military confidence-building measures, specifically, the withdrawal of snipers from the line of contact and the borders, establishment of mechanism to investigate any incidents. We wish to push for confidence-building measures and we are hopeful that if they are approved it will decrease the violence along the line of contact and on the border,” Heffern said.
Speaking about the U.S. assistance provided to NKR he particularly mentioned de-mining and water projects.
As regards Armenia-Turkey protocols to normalize relations, Ambassador Heffern stressed that they “will not give up the protocols and still are pushing very hard on all levels for the protocols to be ratified and implemented.”
“Our message to the Turkish leaders has been to ratify and implement the protocols as they were signed without any preconditions. It is our primary goals in terms of Arm-Turkish reconciliation and we will push it on highest levels,” he said.
“We are pursuing reconciliation on three levels: first and foremost the protocols, get them ratified and implemented without precondition, the second - promoting and pushing Ankara on meaningful economic measures,” Heffern said, brining an example of reopening of Gyumri-Kars car railroad which will also help eastern Turkey and the Armenian and Turkish companies’ negotiations on completion of fiber optic cable from Turkey to Armenia.
“The third level is people-to-people exchanges. We have done it in all sectors: parliamentarians, journalists, students and, businessmen. It is important to break the mistrust between the two countries and two peoples and to build a climate and atmosphere which will make reconciliation possible.”
Commenting on the U.S. attitude towards the May 6 parliamentary elections, Heffern they tried to assess the elections as objective as possible. Among the positive points he underscored access to media and among the shortcomings - widespread vote-buying, misuse of administrative resources, and favoritism to the government parties in the public sector.
“I was excited to see a spirited debate in the parliament, the opposition parties have taken their seats and there was a strong questioning on government’s program in the parliament. It is a good thing, open debate and open competition is good for Armenia’s democracy. As to the next elections, we are pushing for continued reforms by the authorities.”
The Ambassador also commented on the role of Turkey, as a U.S. ally, in changing situation in the Middle East.
“Turkey is of course an important ally of U.S. and NATO and as an ally we are trying to work with Turkey on every regional and international issue we can. For instance, we are working very close with Turkey trying to resolve the Syrian crisis. Turkey’s role is important. However, just because we are allies it does not mean we agree on everything. U.S. and Turkey have vigorous debates. The protocols issue is raised on all levels and we are pushing them to implement and ratify the documents without preconditions, for example Karabakh or others. U.S. supports open borders, diplomatic relations. It will be good for Turkey, for Armenia, for region, and for Karabakh solution.”
Answering to a remark whether there is one or more than one obstacle to ratifying the protocols by Turkey, Heffern noted, “I cannot speak for Turkey. What they are publicly trying to do is not a secret. Turkish leaders are trying to link protocols to progress on Karabakh. It is not a part of the deal. Secretary Clinton announced publicly and in meetings with the Turkish leaders that protocols were signed without preconditions.”