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U.S. Hopeful About Armenian Government-Opposition Talks

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch
YEREVAN -- Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch says Washington welcomes the upcoming dialogue between Armenia's government and the largest opposition force and hopes it will lead to free and fair elections, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Yovanovitch praised the authorities in Yerevan for freeing all opposition members, launching a fresh investigation into the deadly 2008 postelection unrest, and allowing opposition rallies in the city's Liberty Square.

"It's important that that dialogue be transparent, it's important that it be a constructive dialogue," Yovanovitch told RFE/RL in a farewell interview on June 3. "We'll have to see where that takes Armenia."

"But I think it's very exciting and I think there are big opportunities as Armenia enters this two-year period of elections," she said.

The concessions made by President Serzh Sarkisian's administration met the three preconditions for such dialogue set by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).

U.S. officials have repeatedly called for such steps in the past three years.

"I think that an investigation and the release of the detainees allows people -- instead of looking backwards to what happened in 2008, as important as that is -- to look forward to parliamentary elections, to presidential elections, and try to plan for the future," Yovanovitch said. "Hopefully there will be a robust contest of ideas."

In that regard, she made a largely positive assessment of amendments to the electoral code, which were recently enacted by the authorities.

"What's going to be really important, though, is how the law is implemented," she said. "That is absolutely critical."

"And I think there is going to have to be a strong and very clear signal that what is wanted is a free and fair election," Yovanovitch added. "That's important for Armenia's future."

Yovanovitch -- who will be promoted to U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Northern and Central Europe when she leaves Armenia this month -- made a similar case for democratic elections in the country in a much-discussed speech at Yerevan State University in February.

She also urged the government to press ahead with other "deep and difficult" reforms.

In a separate farewell statement issued on June 3, Yovanovitch made clear that Washington will "continue to champion democracy" because it is "fundamental to Armenia's political and economic development."