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Cablegate: Rare Presidential Interview Sparks

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 000449

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CACEN, EUR/ACE, EUR/PGI, DRL, PPD

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV TU AJ AM
SUBJECT: RARE PRESIDENTIAL INTERVIEW SPARKS
SPECULATION ABOUT A DEFENSIVE KOCHARIAN

REF: YEREVAN 347

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

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

2. (SBU) President Robert Kocharian's February 18
extended press conference sparked speculation about
his political posturing vis-a-vis an increasingly
vocal opposition. During the rare two-hour TV
interview, Kocharian took pains to portray himself
as a calm, unfettered executive in charge of his
country. He covered the entire range of political
issues, dedicating significant time to U.S.-Armenia
relations, Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations and
corruption. He suggested that the decline in USG
military assistance to Armenia may have resulted
from Armenia's lukewarm response to coalition calls
for help with the war in Iraq. His sharp criticism
of local opposition leaders included a reprimand for
the controversial January speeches by opposition
parliamentarians at the Parliamentary Council of the
Council of Europe (PACE). Kocharian's nonchalant
performance notwithstanding, his rare decision to go
on the offensive may indicate that he (or those
close to him) senses the need to maintain a firm
grip on public perception. End Summary.

-------------------------------
UNCOMMON AIR TIME FOR KOCHARIAN
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) President Robert Kocharian's two-hour
television interview February 18 was his most
extensive press availability since the 2003
presidential elections. Four local journalists from
mostly pro-government television stations
participated in the interview. Kocharian took pains
to portray himself as a calm, unfettered executive
in charge of his country during his mostly
unrehearsed responses to journalists' questions.
Media analysts noted Kocharian's efforts to minimize
bombastic language and called his interview "loaded"
with nuanced messages to opposition leaders and the
international community.

-----------------------------------------
A NOT-SO-SUBTLE WARNING TO THE OPPOSITION
-----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Kocharian acknowledged the increased
chatter in the political community about opposition
initiatives to oust him from power. Kocharian
stated unequivocally that the GOAM would counter
extra-constitutional measures and warned that "we
[the government] have the resources" to quell such
movements. Kocharian categorized opposition protest
methods as cowardly, including the call for street
protests and rallies. He had harsh words for
opposition parliamentarians who openly criticized
his administration during January 2004 meetings of
the Parliamentary Commission of the Council of
Europe (PACE). Kocharian stopped just short of
daring the opposition to put legal mechanisms of
impeachment or national referendum into play.
(Note: Kocharian is well aware that the pro-
government majority in parliament would not allow
such legal maneuvering at this time. End Note.)

--------------------------------
MISQUOTE ON US-ARMENIA RELATIONS
--------------------------------

5. (SBU) Kocharian responded to journalists'
questions regarding U.S.-Armenia relations by
defending his administration's policy of
"complementarity" with Russia and the U.S. When
asked whether or not the GOAM was worried about a
perceived increase in U.S. interest in the Caucasus,
Kocharian replied, "The increase in the USG's role
in the South Cacasus can favor Armenia, including
the settlement of the N-K conflict." (Note: The
President's response was widely misquoted in Armenia
the following day, implying a more negative answer.
This error has yet to be clarified by the
President's office, but sources in Diaspora lobby
groups tell the us that they will pressure news
agencies to correct the error. End Note.)

--------------------------------------------- -----
KOCHARIAN: "INDEPENDENCE [ON IRAQ] HAD ITS PRICE"
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (SBU) Journalists peppered Kocharian with
questions about anticipated lower levels of USG
military assistance to Armenia vis-a-vis USG
military assistance destined for Azerbaijan.
Kocharian refrained from outwardly criticizing the
USG, but expressed nuanced disappointment that the
USG had not "maintained its promises to the American-
Armenian community." He hypothesized that the
decrease in military assistance was a commensurate
USG response to Armenia's lukewarm cooperation with
coalition efforts during the war with Iraq.
Armenia's "independence [on the Iraq issue]," he
said, "had its price, and yet its value."

--------------------
COMMENT: "WHY NOW?"
--------------------

7. (SBU) Perhaps more important than Kocharian's
remarks themselves was the timing of the press
availability. This interview may have been a
reaction to the opposition's recent reentry into the
policy fray following the splashy January speeches
at PACE and the controversial Dashnak World Congress
(reftel). Alternatively, some within the Kocharian
administration believe that Kocharian is irritated
by the "exaggerated, overly congratulatory"
attention Western governments, local opposition and
policy think tanks have paid to Georgia over the
past few months. This interview may have been an
effort to re-establish Kocharian's political prowess
and defuse any hopes for a "rose revolution" in
Armenia. Lastly, some speculate that lower USG
military assistance levels could be a potentially
fatal policy issue for Kocharian and see the
interview as a convenient way for him to pass the
blame to the National Assembly and other more
strongly pro-Russian political forces.

8. (SBU) Regardless of the reason, and Kocharian's
nonchalant performance during the interview
notwithstanding, his rare decision to go on the
media offensive indicates that he, or those close to
him, senses the need to maintain a firm grip on
public perception. Ironically, it appears that the
interview has done more to capture the attention of
local conspiracy theorists than quell those who
question Kocharian's authority. Although Kocharian
faces a potentially trying Spring given opposition
leaders' calls for increased rallies and protests,
we believe the prospects for any major political
upheaval remain remote.
ORDWAY

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