The Armenian government and the US embassy in Yerevan are staying tight-lipped about WikiLeaks disclosures concerning US-Armenian relations. But the country’s fragmented opposition is trying to score political points with the revelations about supposed arms sales to Iran and the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks.
Out of the hundreds of documents posted on WikiLeaks, two have grabbed the most attention among Armenian citizens.
The first is a classified 2008 letter from former US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to President Serzh Sargsyan about Armenia’s alleged transfer of “machine guns and rockets” to Iran in 2003. At the time, Sargsyan was Armenia’s defense minister.
“Notwithstanding the close relationship between our countries, neither the Administration nor the US Congress can overlook this case,” Negroponte allegedly wrote. “By law, the transfer of these weapons requires us to consider whether there is a basis for the imposition of US sanctions. If sanctions are imposed, penalties could include the cutoff of US assistance and certain export restrictions.”
The letter notes that Sargsyan earlier had denied the arms sales allegation, but Negroponte demands “compelling evidence” that the alleged transfers will not resume; as a means to that end, he proposes that Armenia “periodically accept unannounced visits by US experts to assess the work” of Armenian teams watching for “dual-use commodities and other contraband” at border checkpoints.
In response to the posting of the document on WikiLeaks, the US Embassy in Yerevan on November 29 issued a statement stressing that diplomatic cables “are often preliminary and incomplete expressions of foreign policy, and they should not be seen as having standing on their own or as representing US policy.”
A spokesperson for Sargsyan, meanwhile, told local media outlets that he would “refrain from commenting on another country’s internal, classified documents.”
Some members of Armenia’s opposition are not showing such restraint. Two opposition forces, the Armenian National Congress and the Heritage Party, have linked Negroponte’s warning to the 2009 elimination of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $67 million road construction program for Armenia. At the time, concerns about how well Armenia met the program’s democratization criteria were the reason cited for the program’s curtailment. Those concerns had been stoked by the deaths of at least 10 people in clashes between police and opposition protestors after the country’s 2008 presidential elections.
“This … shows that, in general, US aid programs are cut not because Armenia didn’t meet democratic standards, but when it [Armenia] doesn’t serve the interests of the US,” charged Heritage Party parliamentary faction secretary Stepan Safarian.
Giro Manoian, director of the International Secretariat of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), offered a different perspective. “[T]he United States was trying to prevent the threat of arms exports,” he commented. “If they possessed more serious grounds and evidence, we wouldn’t have avoided sanctions.”
Sanctions were never imposed against Armenia; one member of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council, a group intended to enhance public scrutiny of ministry practices, contends that arms transfers to Iran are not known to have occurred.
“There has never been a single case when arms and ammunition would be exported from our country in disregard of the sanctions as provided for by the UN Security Council’s resolutions,” claimed David Jamalian, a military expert.
A cable related to Washington’s dialogue with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that touches on the Armenian-Turkish protocols and rapprochement process also attracted considerable public attention.
In a conversation with Aliyev on February 25, US Under Secretary of State William J. Burns was reported as saying in an alleged cable from the US Embassy in Baku that “progress on the Turkey-Armenia protocols could create political space for Sargsyan to be more flexible on NK [Nagorno Karabakh].”
The reported comment has outraged Armenian opposition members, who have long insisted that Turkey, a key Azerbaijani ally, intended to link the 2009 protocols with the Karabakh peace process, and that such a connection was not in Armenia’s interests.
The Armenian National Committee of America, an influential diaspora group opposed to the reconciliation process, commented that “these files are a smoking-gun” that show that Turkey has pressured “American leaders against US recognition of the Armenian Genocide and in favor of a pro-Azerbaijani settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
The Heritage Party’s Safarian predicted undefined “domestic political developments” in connection with the cable. “The least we can do is to blame the Armenian authorities for conducting a short-sighted policy,” he said.