Wednesday, September 23, 2020 Armenia Hires Lobbying Firm For ‘Strategic’ Talks With U.S. • Sargis Harutyunyan U.S. -- Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole salutes before the flag-draped coffin of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush at the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, December 4, 2018 The Armenian government confirmed on Wednesday that it has hired a Washington-based lobbying firm ahead of fresh negotiations with U.S. officials which it hopes will boost U.S.-Armenian relations. Lobbying records in Washington revealed last week a one-month contract between the government and the Alston & Bird law firm worth $10,000. It was signed on September 15 by Armenian Ambassador to the United States Varuzhan Nersesyan and Bob Dole, a former pro-Armenian U.S. senator who now works as a special counsel at Alston & Bird. “We will assist the Republic of Armenia in its efforts to build on the strategic partnership with the United States in advance of planned diplomatic talks in October of 2020,” the 97-year-old Dole said in a letter to Nersesyan. “During the course of this engagement, Alston & Bird will monitor current events relevant to US-Armenia relations and provide strategic counsel with respect to improvement of that relationship,” he wrote. “These services may include outreach to United States Government officials as well as Members of Congress and their staffs.” The lobbying firm will help Yerevan prepare for the final round of the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue which will take place in Washington next month. The Armenian delegation is expected to be headed by Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian. “The format and level of the final meeting is still being discussed,” said Armella Shakarian, head of the U.S. and Canada desk at the Armenian Foreign Ministry. It should be ascertained over the next week, she said. Armenia - Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian (R) and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent are about to sign an agreement after the first session of the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialouge in Yerevan, May 7, 2019. The first session of the “strategic dialogue” was held in Yerevan in May 2019. Senior U.S. and Armenian officials discussed a wide range of issues and pledged to strive for closer bilateral ties. The two sides held two more sessions via a video link earlier this month. Shakarian said that the dialogue has widened the scope of issues on the agenda of U.S.-Armenian cooperation. “We expect the implementation of more far-reaching projects and the development of economic ties with the United States,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. The official added that defense and security issues are also on the agenda of the dialogue. “We are discussing ways of deepening relations in these areas,” she said. U.S. officials promised greater financial assistance to Armenia following the May 2019 talks. Washington increased that assistance by 40 percent, to over $60 million, last year to support the implementation of the Armenian government’s ambitious reform agenda. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the government’s declared efforts to root out corruption, strengthen the rule of law and improve the domestic business environment when he congratulated Armenia on its Independence Day on Monday. Armenian Opposition To Demand Snap Elections • Ruzanna Stepanian Armenia -- Ishkhan Saghatelian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, at a news conference in Yerevan, April 30, 2019. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and two other opposition parties will demand the holding of fresh general elections at their first joint rally scheduled for October 8, a Dashnaktsutyun leader said on Wednesday. Dashnaktsutyun, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and Hayrenik Party announced their decision to rally supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Tuesday. In a joint statement, they denounced Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his cabinet and cited “the need for the formation of a new kind of national government.” “The main demand is pre-term parliamentary elections and that requires the prime minister’s resignation,” Dashnaktsutyun’s Ishkhan Saghatelian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Other details will be voiced at the rally.” Just hours after the three parties made the announcement, it emerged that a court in Yerevan scheduled for Wednesday a hearing on the pre-trial arrest of the BHK’s indicted leader Gagik Tsarukian sought by prosecutors. Tsarukian and his lawyers did not show up for the hearing, leading the court to postpone it until Friday. Alen Simonian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling My Step bloc, claimed that the planned rally is aimed at helping Tsarukian avoid arrest on vote buying charges strongly denied by him. Saghatelian categorically denied such a connection. “We are saying the opposite: that these authorities keep trying to silence their political opponents through criminal cases and persecution,” he said. The Dashnaktsutyun leader insisted that the rally will take place as planned even if Tsarukian is arrested. “We hope that the authorities will not opt for that,” he said. The three parties agreed in June to work together in challenging the government shortly after Tsarukian was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution and charged with bribing voters ahead of 2017 parliamentary elections. The BHK leader, who is one of Armenia’s richest men, rejects the accusations as politically motivated. With 8.3 percent of the vote, Tsarukian’s party came in a distant second in the last general elections held in December 2018 and widely recognized as democratic. Dashnaktsutyun got only 3.9 percent, failing to win any parliament seats. Dashnaktsutyun and the BHK had for years been represented in former President Serzh Sarkisian’s government toppled during the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” They joined Pashinian’s first cabinet formed in May 2018 but were ousted from it five months later when the prime minister accused them of secretly collaborating with the former ruling Republican Party. The third opposition party, Hayrenik, was set up early this year by Artur Vanetsian, the former head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS). Vanetsian fell out with Pashinian and resigned as NSS director in September 2019. China Opens New Embassy Complex In Armenia Armenia -- Chinese Ambassador Tian Erlong (R) shows Armenian President Armen Sarkissian around China's newly built embassy complex in Yerevan, September 23, 2020. President Armen Sarkissian visited China’s new and sprawling embassy complex in Armenia on Wednesday, saying that its construction highlights Beijing’s desire to deepen Chinese-Armenian relations. Work on the Chinese Embassy’s new building and adjacent facilities in Yerevan began three years ago. Officials said at the time that it will be China’s second largest diplomatic mission in the former Soviet Union. “You are the first and most honorable guest of our new embassy,” Chinese Ambassador Tian Erlong told Sarkissian before showing him around the 40,000-square-meter compound. Sarkissian toured the compound ahead of China’s National Day that will be marked on October 1. He congratulated Tian and other Yerevan-based Chinese diplomats on the upcoming holiday. “I think China can be proud of such presence,” the president told the envoy at an ensuing meeting. “We regard this [new embassy complex] as China’s bid to deepen Chinese-Armenian relations and elevate them to a higher level.” Armenia -- Armenian President Armen Sarkissian (R) visits China's newly built embassy complex in Yerevan, . “Despite their different size, Armenia and China have many similarities: they both are global nations in a certain sense,” he said. Chinese President Xi Jinping praised bilateral ties when he congratulated Sarkissian on the 29th anniversary of Armenia’s declaration of independence on Monday. He said Beijing and Yerevan support each other in the international arena on “issues which are vital for the interests of the two countries.” “I attach great importance to the development of the Chinese-Armenia relations and I am ready to make, together with you, joint efforts to elevate our multifaceted cooperation to a new level,” Xi wrote in a congratulatory message. Xi reaffirmed China’s desire to deepen political, economic and cultural ties with Armenia when he met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Beijing in May 2019. “Constructive and productive relations with China are very important for us,” Pashinian said, for his part. China -- Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Beijing, May 14, 2019. In August 2018, Pashinian attended the inauguration of a new school in Yerevan built by the Chinese government. He said that having many Chinese speakers is an “economic necessity” for Armenia. China is Armenia’s second largest trading partner after Russia. According to official Armenian statistics, Chinese-Armenian trade totaled $405 million in the first half of this year. Sarkissian called on Wednesday for closer commercial ties between Armenian and Chinese high-tech companies. “I would be very happy to make my modest contribution to the development of Chinese-Armenian economic relations in the area of high technology,” he said. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.