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ARMENIA'S FOREIGN RELATIONS By Hratch Tchilingirian EVENT: Senior presidential adviser Jirair (Gerard) Libaridian resigned. SIGNIFICANCE: Libaridian's departure comes at a time when Armenia has been mounting a relatively successful effort to build its international ties. ANALYSIS: On September 15, Jirair Libaridian announced that President Levon Ter-Petrosian had accepted his resignation as a senior foreign policy advisor, on purely personal grounds. Libaridian has been a key architect of Armenian foreign policy since independence, playing a central role in negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh and in warming relations with Turkey. Libaridian also played an important part in establishing Armenia's foreign ministry and foreign policy-making processes. Libaridian was one of several diaspora Armenians to have played a prominent part in Armenia's foreign policy. Born in Beirut, Libaridian is a US citizen and will now return to the United States. Other diaspora Armenians with important foreign policy functions have included Raffi Hovanissian, the first foreign minister of independent Armenia, and First Deputy Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Armenia's chief negotiator within the OSCE Minsk Group, the principal forum for international talks on Nagorno-Karabakh. Such diaspora figures have brought valuable knowledge and experience to the newly independent state's diplomacy. Libaridian has no obvious successor. Armenia is still affected by its shortage of skilled foreign policy personnel -- its ambassadorial posts to the UN and the United Kingdom have been vacant since late last year -- but Libaridian's departure will not be as major a blow as it once would have been. Several native Armenian diplomats who have served in the West are returning to Yerevan. Moreover, Libaridian seems likely to continue to provide ad hoc advice to Ter-Petrosian in his new capacity as ambassador-at-large. Foreign policy setbacks. Libaridian's departure from Yerevan comes as Armenian foreign policy is recovering from last December's Lisbon OSCE summit, which was widely seen as a diplomatic failure for Armenia. Azerbaijan won from the summit an affirmation of the country's territorial integrity, despite Armenia's veto of the summit. Since December, Armenia has faced a number of foreign policy problems and the prospect of increased international isolation: -- In February, Armen Sarkissian resigned as prime minister, owing to ill health. Sarkisian had taken a high-profile foreign policy role and had been achieving some success in rebuilding Armenia's international position following. However, Sarkisian now appears to have recovered, and has recently been appointed as another ambassador-at-large. -- In April, reports that Russia had made major arms transfers to Armenia in 1992-94 allowed Azerbaijan to intensify its efforts to isolate Armenia internationally, and encouraged a shift in western sympathies from Yerevan to Baku. -- US support for Section 907 of the 1992 US Freedom Support Act -- which blocks government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan until Baku lifts its economic embargo on Armenia -- has been waning. During Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev's visit to the United States in August, US President Bill Clinton pledged to seek to repeal Section 907. Aliyev's visit also saw the signing of several agreements strengthening US-Azerbaijani relations. Foreign policy successes. Armenian foreign policy rests on three linked principles: -- Security. Armenia sees its immediate environment as hostile, and its foreign policy agenda is dominated by military and security concerns. For the purposes of deterrence, Armenia wishes to build its defense forces so that it at least matches Azerbaijan in military strength. -- Balance. For historical reasons, Armenia prefers to take the initiative in building a set of balanced relations with all relevant powers, rather than relying on a single alignment led by another state. Yerevan's enthusiasm for ties with both Russia and the United States contrasts with the more unequivocal pro-western orientation of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Armenia has been able to preserve a balance by neither antagonizing nor fully accommodating the players in a crowded region. -- Pragmatism. Armenia is aware of its relative military and economic weakness -- especially compared with Azerbaijan -- and takes account of this in pursuing its foreign relations, sometimes to the dismay of domestic public opinion. Armenia's main foreign policy lever is its geo-strategic position. Armenia thus aims to build as many international ties as possible, both within the region and beyond, in order to boost its security. The Ter-Petrosian administration is also aware that the international community will not allow the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict to go unresolved indefinitely. Yerevan thus aims to build a set of relationships that will facilitate an eventual settlement as favorable to the Armenian position as possible. Despite foreign policy setbacks, Yerevan has recently recorded some foreign policy successes: 1. Neighboring states. Progress in developing friendly relations with neighboring states includes: -- Georgia. Relations between Tbilisi and Yerevan are friendly, although Georgia's more antagonistic orientation vis-a-vis Russia make for a closer affinity with Azerbaijan. Georgia has more to gain from Azerbaijan's oil wealth than from good relations with Armenia. Nevertheless, in July Armenia signed a 'strategic partnership' agreement with Georgia. -- Iran. Relations with Iran are increasingly cemented by numerous bilateral agreements. Iran's economic presence in Armenia (especially in energy, industry and consumer goods) is particularly strong. Although Iran maintains a neutral stance on Nagorno-Karabakh, its economic ties with Armenia aggravate Baku, as they undermine the effect of the Azerbaijani blockade. Armenia is developing a 'strategic cooperation' agreement with Iran, and has announced its intention to appoint a military attache. -- Turkey. There are signs of a softening of Ankara's position on its blockade of Armenia, although a normalization of relations with Yerevan remains hostage to Turkey's hopes of benefiting from the transit of Azerbaijani oil. Azerbaijani pressure means that Turkey continues to make resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict a condition of normalized relations with Armenia. However, Turkey has suggested that opening its Armenian border to trade would foster progress on Nagorno-Karabakh, although Aliyev appears unconvinced by this. No progress will be made in relations with Azerbaijan until a resolution is reached on Nagorno-Karabakh, of which there is little prospect at present. The diversity of regional states' interests means that none is likely to be able to mediate effectively between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh will probably rely on mediation by outside powers. 2. Wider ties. There have been several recent developments in Armenia's ties outside its immediate neighbors, including an economic and military cooperation agreement with Ukraine and a 'strategic partnership' agreement with Kazakhstan, adding to those which Yerevan already has with Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Armenia is developing 'strategic cooperation' agreements with the United States -- where it hopes to post a military attache -- and China, and over the summer signed agreements with Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Yerevan also gives weight to participation within multilateral fora such as the CIS and NATO's Partnership for Peace. In July, Armenia signed military cooperation agreements with Greece and Bulgaria. Yerevan hopes to appoint a military attache in Athens. Some Armenian officials have spoken of a Moscow-Yerevan-Athens axis, although this prospect alarms Turkey. Armenia's most notable recent foreign policy success came with the August 29 treaty with Russia on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance, in which Moscow committed itself to the defense of Armenia should it be attacked by a third party. Russia is the key regional security player, and has proved a valuable historical ally for Armenia. Although it appeared as a response to Aliyev's US trip, the treaty had probably long been under development. However, it is clear from the wider context of Armenian foreign policy that -- while Yerevan welcomes the Russian security guarantee -- the country does not want to rely exclusively on Moscow, nor to become part of a confrontation between Russian and US-led alliances in the Transcaucasus. CONCLUSION: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will continue to dominate Armenia's foreign policy agenda. However, Armenia will continue to develop a range of bilateral and multilateral ties to constrain Baku's ability to mobilize international pressure, and to improve the Armenian position vis-a-vis a final settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. ------------------------------------------------------------------- Hratch Tchilingirian, a PhD candidate at London School of Economics and Political Science, is the Director of the Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation, Cambridge, MA and Toronto.