YEREVAN -- A senior NATO official has said that Armenia's new defense agreement with Russia will not negatively impact its growing cooperation with NATO, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Robert Simmons, NATO's special representative to the South Caucasus, also said in Yerevan that Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has been invited to an upcoming NATO summit in Portugal.
Simmons met with Sarkisian later in the day. The president was quoted by his office as stressing the importance of an ongoing training exercise under NATO auspices and the alliance's support for Armenia's defense reforms.
The agreement extending and upgrading Russia's military presence in Armenia was signed on August 20, more than one month after the Armenian government publicly pledged to "draw closer to" NATO through fresh defense reforms.
"I have always said that we recognize that Armenia is a member of the [Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)] and has thus an alliance with Russia and other members of the CSTO," he said. "And that includes a [military] presence on your territory, which we have never criticized."
Simmons added that the Armenian government had made it equally clear that they are interested in deepening their partnership with NATO. "These two things are balanced and one doesn't make the other more difficult. And we've never said that it's a zero-sum game and that you can have one but not the other," he said.
The remarks were in tune with U.S. reaction to the Russian-Armenian accord that was voiced by a State Department spokesman late last month. The official said Washington expects to continue its "strong partnership with Armenia."
The accord sealed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Yerevan extended Russia's lease on a military base in Armenia by 24 years, until 2044, and enhanced its role in the country's national security. It also commits the Russians to supplying the Armenian military with more modern weaponry.
The deal followed the publication in early July of a recently revised version of Armenia's Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO. The document affirms Yerevan's intention to "intensify practical and political cooperation with NATO" and details additional reforms of its armed forces to be implemented in the coming years.
The reforms are meant to bring the Armenian army into greater conformity with NATO standards and practices.
The original IPAP was launched in 2005, highlighting Armenia's desire to complement its military alliance with Russia with closer security links with
the West. More than 110 Armenian troops are currently participating in the NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Simmons said that Armenia's participation in those theaters is significant.
"Because you are a contributor to [the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan]...President [Sarkisian] has been invited already to the NATO summit which will be held in November in Lisbon," he said. "And at that summit we will approve a new strategic concept for the alliance."
Simmons spoke to journalists before monitoring a NATO-led disaster relief exercise currently being held near Yerevan. The drills, which began on September 12, involve 700 rescue workers from 28 NATO member and partner states simulating a response to a powerful earthquake.