Suren Sargsyan

Visit as a Message in Itself

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Since the establishment of US-Armenian diplomatic relations, there has been a noticeable intensification of relations at some stages, which was manifested by the activation of contacts and the visits of high-ranking US officials to Armenia. Some US secretaries visited the Republic of Armenia during various phases of intensified relations. The first high-level visit was in 1992, when US Secretary of State James Baker came to Armenia on the occasion of the establishment of US-Armenian diplomatic relations and the opening of the US Embassy in Yerevan. The second secretary of state who visited Armenia was Hillary Clinton. She visited Armenia twice, in 2010 and 2012. Throughout the history of US-Armenian relations, only one secretary of defense (Donald Rumsfeld, 2001), one secretary of the treasury (Jacob Lew, 2015) and one secretary of the navy (Ray Mabus, 2012) have visited Armenia.

In this context, the visit of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, to Armenia on September 17-19, can be considered historic, as Pelosi became the highest-ranking US official to have ever visited this country. Pelosi enjoys great influence throughout the United States in both domestic and foreign affairs and is an independent political decision-maker. Being an ally of President Joe Biden, Pelosi, as an individual politician, is a heavyweight figure not only for the Democratic Party but also in the political Olympus, and often makes independent policy decisions.

Pelosi is a historical figure for the United States. She became the first woman to serve as the Speaker of the House upon her 2007 election to that post. Pelosi made history again in 2019 when she regained her position, becoming the first person to do so in more than six decades. 

One of the key reasons for the Speaker’s visit to Armenia is her personal approach towards Armenia and Armenians. Pelosi has always been one of the close friends of Armenians in Washington and in California, and has always supported pro-Armenian initiatives. It is no coincidence that Pelosi’s delegation included the only two congresswomen of Armenian descent, along with Frank Pallone, as the three are the pioneers of Armenian interests in the United States. The fact that Pelosi did not cancel her visit to Armenia despite the Azerbaijani aggression days before her visit was due to her desire to support Armenians during such tough times for the country, and this is a message itself. Another message was the fact that she did not pay a regional visit but came only to Armenia, even avoiding visiting Azerbaijan, which would keep diplomatic protocol or balance. 

Main Messages of Nancy Pelosi’s Visit

About a month before her visit, I posted two statuses on my Facebook page about her upcoming visit. The information was not received with great enthusiasm until the official announcement a day before the visit. During her visit to Armenia, Pelosi expressed her personal support for Armenians and Armenia, while at the same time sending several messages about the prospects for the further development of US-Armenian relations.  

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Without placing any pressure on Armenia to change its foreign policy orientation, in particular to leave the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) or the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Pelosi tried to stress that the Armenian side must first of all understand what it wants and then discuss it with the US leadership. This was one of the most important message of the visit, which Nancy Pelosi tried to convey to the Armenian authorities. In other words, the US expects suggestions or proposals from Armenia, within the framework of which deeper cooperation between the two countries can be implemented. In fact, this visit was a great opportunity for the Armenian side to come up with specific proposals. Even if Armenia is not ready to offer deep political cooperation to the US, there are much broader opportunities in the economic and business spheres with a considerable potential to deepen the relations of the two counties in this direction.

Among the messages Pelosi conveyed during her visit was the need to preserve democracy in Armenia. According to Pelosi, “America is committed to Armenia’s security, democracy and we stand with Armenia in a difficult time. It is a difficult time in the world. We are amidst a battle between democracy and autocracy…Armenia’s at the center of this debate between democracy and autocracy with its proximity to Russia…” Such an emphasis on preservation of democracy in Armenia is connected to the fact that even the United States is facing a crisis of democracy inside the country. Therefore, democracy becomes an important domestic and foreign policy issue for the United States.

In addition, Pelosi emphasized the issue of preserving democracy, as this is one of the most important directions of the Biden administration’s foreign policy, unlike that of President Trump, for whom democracy was not a priority. In December 2021, at the initiative of President Biden, the first Summit for Democracy was held online, which was attended by more than 100 heads of states, including the prime minister of Armenia. This year, the second Democracy Summit will be held in December, but this time it will be in person and all the representatives will be invited to the USA. In all probability, Armenia will also receive an invitation, within the framework of which it will be possible to organize a meeting between US President Biden and Prime Minister Pashinyan. 

However, being a democratic country alone does not mean a close alliance with the US. In this sense, the foreign policy of the United States remains within the limits of pragmatism. The strategic interests of the United States always prevail. A vivid example of this is the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, although all political and civil rights and freedoms are restricted in Saudi Arabia and it is meaningless to talk about democracy there. It turns out that US interests are enough to establish deep military-political relations and democracy cannot be a precondition for that.

In connection with Nancy Pelosi’s visit, many people expected that the United States would provide military or security assistance to Armenia, like it does to Azerbaijan, which receives millions of dollars in security aid from the United States. However, two important circumstances should be taken into account. First, Armenia is a member of the CSTO, which is under the auspices of Russia. Second, Azerbaijan receives military aid to serve US strategic interests. In particular, it receives military aid aimed at ensuring the protection of its border with Iran, which is the sea border of Azerbaijan and Iran through the Caspian Sea. In other words, it turns out that the aid provided to Azerbaijan is not directed against Armenia, but against Iran, as stated by the United States ambassador to Armenia. As for the sale of arms and ammunition to Armenia, it should be emphasized that the United States does not sell arms and ammunition to the conflicting parties. 

A few days after Nancy Pelosi’s visit, the Armenian National Committee of America issued a statement saying that for the first time since 1991, the Congress is discussing the issue of arms sales to Armenia. However, it is unknown whether this initiative will succeed and what consequences it will entail for Armenia. The fact is that the Speaker’s visit to Armenia was a message of support and friendship to Armenians in Armenia and constituents in the US during these difficult times for Armenia. 

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