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Armenia: U.S. Heightens Alert

The United States has adopted a "heightened security posture" in Armenia, in the wake of what U.S. officials called Wednesday's "shocking" shooting during a televised session of Parliament. Both the White House and State Department condemned the violence in Yerevan and called on the perpetrators to surrender to authorities. RFE/RL Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports on the latest crisis to hit the already volatile Caucasus.

Washington, 29 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- State Department spokesman James Rubin says the United States has no reason to believe there is any current threat to the standing government in Armenia, as a result of Wednesday's shooting. Nor, Rubin said, did the U.S. foresee a link between the shooting and ongoing efforts to bring peace to the mainly Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located in Azerbaijan.

Still, he told reporters at the daily briefing in Washington that the American embassy in Yerevan had alerted the American community in Armenia, while also adopting a heightened security posture. He did not elaborate.

Rubin said Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had just left Yerevan an hour or so prior to the shooting, after holding what were characterized as "constructive talks" with the Armenian leadership. Rubin told reporters Talbott had detected no signs of the armed attack that at first report killed Prime Minister Vazgen Sarksyan and three other officials. Rubin said Talbott would be following up on the issue while in Moscow.

"I suspect that Deputy Secretary Talbott's party will be following up with Azerbaijan in the normal course of events because of the efforts they've been making to try to promote a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue."

Likewise, Rubin said the United States' Ambassador in Yerevan, Michael Lemmon, has been in constant contact with Armenian authorities since the attack was launched. Rubin also told reporters that the rest of Armenia was reported calm, and he noted no sign of troop movements or unrest elsewhere in the country that could evidence signs of a coup.

President Bill Clinton, speaking to reporters later on the White House lawn, said it was a "sad" day for Armenia:

"We have a good relationship with Armenia and, as you know, we've done a lot of work with Armenia and Azerbaijan to try to resolve the difficulties surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. The two Presidents have been very forthcoming and this is a real blow to that country and to that region."

Earlier, Clinton said in a written statement that he was "shocked" by what he called this senseless act against individuals actively engaged in building democracy in Armenia.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Communications Director, Paul Goble, also sees yesterday's attack as a setback for peace. Goble, who earlier served as special advisor on Soviet nationality problems and Baltic affairs at the U.S. Department of State, said the Yerevan shooting sends a chilling message:

"(It) Fundamentally destabilizes Armenia by removing that many important players from the political scene. By showing that violence can do that -- violence is an option in Armenia. Armenia will certainly be destabilized as a country, either forced to go to a kind of martial law for some period of time, or find itself unable to control its own territory."

Goble said the consequences of Wednesday's action geo-politically are far greater. First, Goble said it will slow down, if not stop, recent efforts to reach agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh. But perhaps more importantly, Goble said it could re-order the existing political arrangement whereby Azerbaijan and Georgia have pursued fairly pro-American, pro-Western policies, while Armenia aligned more closely with Moscow.