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Armenian President Proposes Closer Ties With Israel

Serzh Sarkisian (file photo)
YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has called for deepening Armenia's relationship with Israel in a meeting with an Israeli official, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian's press office said he told Micha Lindenstrauss, Israel's state comptroller and ombudsman, in Yerevan on July 13 about the importance of "the development of multifaceted relations with Israel in all spheres of mutual interest."

Lindenstrauss was in Armenia less than a month after he and Armenian human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian attended a Madrid session of the Mediterranean Association of Ombudsmen. Lindenstrauss's main duty is to monitor the legality and efficiency of decisions taken by Israeli public institutions.

At the Madrid conference, Harutiunian opposed a Turkish official's proposal to condemn Israel's blockade of Gaza and commented on the recent Turkish-backed attempt to break it. He argued, among other things, that Turkey itself maintains an economic blockade of Armenia, which was imposed in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is uncommon for high-ranking Israelis to visit Armenia. Armenian leaders also rarely visit Israel.

Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was scheduled to make an unofficial visit to Jerusalem with Catholicos Garegin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in mid-February. But the trip was canceled at the last minute when Sarkisian fell ill.

Prime Minister Sarkisian subsequently told the Israeli ambassador to Armenia, Shemi Tzur, that Yerevan is interested in "broadening and deepening" Armenian-Israeli ties.

Although Armenia and Israel have diplomatic relations, neither maintains an embassy in the other country. The Israeli ambassador to Armenia is based in Tbilisi, while Armenia's interests in Israel are represented by its ambassador to France.

Successive Armenian and Israeli governments have trod carefully in developing bilateral relations. Armenia has traditionally had warm relations with Arab states and neighboring Iran, while Israel has until recently had close political and military ties with Armenia's archrival, Turkey.

Analysts say the worsening of Turkish-Israeli relations could change Yerevan's and Tel Aviv's geopolitical priorities. In particular, Jewish lobby groups in the United States are expected to stop helping Ankara defeat draft resolutions in the U.S. Congress recognizing the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.

Israel's parliament is expected to debate a similar resolution soon.