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U.S., Armenian Militaries Plan First-Ever Joint Drills

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander
YEREVAN -- The Armenian Defense Ministry says the United States and Armenia have tentatively agreed to hold their first-ever joint military exercises that will highlight their growing security ties, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ministry spokesman Davit Karapetian told RFE/RL on July 22 that the drills will likely take place next year or in 2013 and involve U.S. and Armenian troops engaged in multinational "peacekeeping" operations. He said an agreement to that effect was finalized during U.S.-Armenian "defense consultations" held in Washington last week.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow and his deputy, Celeste Wallander, held the two-day talks with an Armenian delegation headed by First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan.

Tonoyan also met separately with U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and Eric Rubin, the newly appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. The Pentagon issued no statements on the talks.

The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said they took place "in a warm and constructive atmosphere."

"The parties expressed readiness to expand the spheres of cooperation," a ministry statement said.

It added that Tonoyan discussed with Pentagon officials "joint exercises and trainings with the aim of participating in peacekeeping operations."

Karapetian clarified that they reached a "preliminary agreement to hold joint exercises of peacekeeping forces from the two countries in Armenia in 2012-2013." The drills will help to improve the interoperability of those forces, he said.

"This is very important considering the peacekeeping operations carried out by U.S. and Armenian troops in Afghanistan," Karapetian said.

Armenia Triples Its NATO Participation

Armenia last month almost tripled its participation in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan and currently has about 130 troops on the ground. Wallander praised the additional Armenian troop deployment there when she visited Yerevan later in June.

The Defense Ministry statement said Tonoyan also discussed in Washington the training of Armenian military personnel in the United States. It said the two sides also mapped out "new areas of further cooperation" stemming from Armenia's recent "strategic defense review."

The review is part of ongoing defense reforms which are envisaged by Armenia's Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO which was launched in 2005. They are supposed to bring the Armenian military into greater conformity with U.S. and NATO standards.

U.S. and Armenian troops have until now trained together only in multinational exercises organized by NATO. Armenia has hosted two such exercises in recent years.

Those drills as well as the Armenian participation in the U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo have underscored Armenia's desire to complement its military alliance with Russia with closer defense links with the West.

Yerevan and Moscow bolstered that alliance last year with an agreement that extended the Russian military presence in the South Caucasus country by 24 years, until 2044.

Wallander told RFE/RL in Yerevan last month that Russian-Armenian military ties are not an obstacle to growing military cooperation between the U.S. and Armenia.