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Cablegate: Armenian Politicians Posture After "Wider

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000282

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CACEN, DRL, PPD
EUR/CACEN FOR EUGENIA SIDEREAS AND MARGARET PAWLICK
DRL FOR KIMBER SHEARER AND WENDY SILVERMAN

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM ZJ TU AM EUN
SUBJECT: ARMENIAN POLITICIANS POSTURE AFTER "WIDER
EUROPE" PRONOUNCEMENTS IN TBLISI, EU VISIT


1. (U) Sensitive But Unclassified. Please treat
accordingly.

-------
SUMMARY
-------

2. (SBU) Recent statements by EU officials in Tblisi
suggesting a more concrete role for the South
Caucasus countries in the "Wider Europe" initiative
incited an unusual surge of Euro-friendly political
posturing in Armenia. GOAM officials and
politicians went so far as to characterize the
January 28-30 visit of EU Special Representative
Heikki Talvitie as a sign of Armenia's "privileged"
place in Brussels' South Caucasus agenda. Talvitie
told us January 29 that a policy of simultaneous
visits to all three South Caucasus countries was
important to maintain equity and avoid accusations
of favoritism. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -
EUROPE ON EVERYONE'S MINDS -- OR AT LEAST LIPS
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (U) The EU's January 27 statements suggesting a
more concrete role for the South Caucasus states in
the "Wider Europe" initiative incited an
unprecedented surge of public statements regarding
Armenia's EU policy by Armenian politicians. MFA
officials welcomed the announcement with the
traditional pro-Europe talking points but added
stronger language asserting Armenia's position as
forerunner for eventual EU membership. FM Vartan
Oskanian's statement following the visit of EU
Special Representative Heikki Talvitie linked the EU
initiative to the successful lobbying efforts by
President Robert Kocharian during his December visit
to Brussels. Comment: The unusually aggressive
tone of the MFA statements appeared to be a face-
saving measure after Javier Solana and EU leaders
did not visit Yerevan while in the region for the
inauguration of Georgian President Saakashvili. End
comment.

4. (SBU) Even politicians not normally vocal
regarding European integration entered the fray in
late January. Pro-government newspaper Golos
Armenii, normally neutral on matters related to
Europe, praised the statement as "basically a
declaration of quasi-EU-membership." Opposition
leaders took a different approach. They used the
opportunity to criticize the GOAM for "sluggishness"
in adopting new laws and Council of Europe
commitments. Dashnaksutiun (ARF) newspapers carried
editorials ranging from skeptical to mildly
enthusiastic about Armenia's possible role in an
expanded Europe. Some ARF leaders remarked that
GOAM efforts toward European integration must not
"water down" the government's approach to the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or relations with Turkey.
ARF member and National Assembly Foreign Relations
Committee Chair Armen Rustamian's comments were more
optimistic. He took advantage of the debate to
credit traditional Armenian allies such as Greece
and France with championing Armenia's cause as a
potential European partner.

---------------------------------------
EU SPECIAL REP ON WIDER EUROPE, GEORGIA
---------------------------------------

5. (SBU) EU Special Representative for the South
Caucasus Heikki Talvitie told us during a January 29
meeting with the Ambassador that he was cautiously
optimistic about the role of countries like Armenia
in the Wider Europe initiative. He said that GOAM
leaders had been receptive to his visit and
generally realistic about the implications of the
"Wider Europe" initiative. He commented, however,
that maintaining a perception of parity between the
three South Caucasus countries was more important
than ever for his office. Visits to the region
henceforth would likely include stops in all three
capitals in light of government sensitivities or
perceived favoritism. He credited recent events in
Georgia with hastening the EU's warmer approach to
the region. He reported, however, that some in the
EU were taken aback by the Georgian government's
fervor when hoisting the EU flag as part of
Saakashvili's inauguration ceremony. According to
Talvitie, while technically appropriate (given
Georgia's membership in the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe), the use of the EU flag
symbolized the dangers involved with runaway
expectations regarding EU membership in the
Caucasus. He, like every other credible outside
observer, believes the prospect of EU membership is
a distant goal, at best.

--------------------------------
COMMENT: USING THE EU AS A LEVER
--------------------------------

6. (SBU) Most of our GOAM interlocutors are quite
realistic on the prospect of EU membership. They
see this prospect as useful over the next few years
as a principal driver of the economic reform agenda,
and ensuring that Armenia retains its free market
orientation. In addition, they see utility in
gradually conforming Armenia's reform efforts to EU
and European standards -- a useful exercise even if
membership is a distant, even unachievable goal.
Given that background, it strikes us that this
public eruption of Euro-enthusiasm could be
counterproductive if it generates unrealistic
expectations that cannot be achieved soon -- or
perhaps ever.

--------------------------------------------- ---
ECONOMICS ASIDE, A POLITICAL FLIRT WITH THE WEST
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) COMMENT (continued): The recent flurry of
political commentary demonstrates that issue of
closer relations with Europe has matured into a
permanent domestic political issue in Armenia.
While it is unclear to what extent political parties
understand the EU accession process or the
timeframes involved, they correctly estimate the
issue's cachet with Armenians at home and abroad.
In urging Talvitie and the EU to continue to manage
expectations with the Armenians in order to avoid
future misunderstandings or disappointment we should
also urge them to point out the more intangible,
political benefits of Armenia's current Euro-
enthusiasm. With the exception of hard-line
skeptics who link Euro-friendly policies with
concessions on N-K or Turkey, it appears that a pro-
European stance will be de rigueur in Armenian
politics for the foreseeable future.
ORDWAY

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