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U.S. Ambassador Meets With Armenian Opposition Leader

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern

YEREVAN -- The new U.S. ambassador in Armenia has discussed the internal political situation and Armenian relations with neighbors Azerbaijan and Turkey during his first meeting with opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ter-Petrosian's Armenian National Congress (HAK) said in a statement that Armenia's first president also spoke with U.S. Ambassador John Heffern on November 7 in Yerevan about "systemic corruption, the absence of democratic freedoms, rigged elections, and restrictions on press freedom" in the country.

"President Ter-Petrossian emphasized the holding of legal elections and the formation of a legitimate government as the key to addressing problems facing Armenia," the statement said.

It said Ter-Petrossian also presented his opposition bloc's positions on Turkish-Armenian relations and the unresolved conflict over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. No further details were reported.

Ter-Petrossian has repeatedly accused the West -- and the United States in particular -- of turning a blind eye to vote rigging and human rights abuses in Armenia in the hope of clinching more Armenian concessions to Turkey and Azerbaijan from President Serzh Sarkisian. U.S. officials have rejected those claims.

Heffern, who was appointed ambassador this summer, stressed the importance of the proper conduct of the next Armenian elections in his first public remarks in Yerevan on October 18. He said Washington expects the Sarkisian administration to follow up on its "favorable decisions" made earlier this year.

Heffern appeared to refer to a series of concessions made by Sarkisian to the HAK in the spring. Those included the release of the last opposition members remaining in jail.

On November 7, Heffern also visited the Yerevan headquarters of the opposition Free Democrats party that was set up recently by former prominent members of the HAK.

Among them is former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian, who managed Ter-Petrossian's 2008 presidential election campaign.

A short statement by the Free Democrats said the party leaders discussed with Heffern "the state of democracy, foreign relations, and sociopolitical processes in Armenia."