Transcript of Senator Hagel’s Press Conference
Marriott Hotel, Yerevan, Armenia
June 2, 2005

Senator Hagel - Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Chuck Hagel. I am a United States Senator from the state of Nebraska. I have been in this region the last few days. I came to Armenia this morning through Azerbaijan. Prior to spending some time in Azerbaijan, I was in Turkey. Tomorrow I will go to Georgia and then on to Ukraine and then back to Washington. The reason I am in Central Asia and the Caucasus is because this is a critical area of the world. The United States has many interests here, as well as partnerships and friendships. Included in those important relationships for the United States is our relationship with Armenia. Common interests in this area, like our geographical, defense, security, and political interests, as well as energy and economic interests, are areas that the Congress of the United States as well as the Bush Administration put a high priority on. So far, I have had an opportunity to meet with the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and this afternoon I met with President Kocharian. Prior to meeting with the President, I met with the Minister of Defense. I had an opportunity to visit a peacekeeping battalion here in Armenia as well. During my meetings with the leaders of the three countries I visited so far and the two countries that I will yet visit, I have expressed the gratitude of the United States for our friendships, relationships, and partnerships that are manifested in many ways in this region. I am grateful to our Ambassador and his group of professionals here at the United States Embassy for the good work that they do for our country and for strengthening our relationship with Armenia and the people of Armenia. I do not speak for the Government of the United States; I do not speak for Bush administration; I am a United States Senator and speak only for myself. With that, let me now open up the opportunity for questions, and I would be very pleased to respond to those questions.

Mediamax news agency - Mr. Senator, I have learned that yesterday, during your meetings in Azerbaijan, you discussed the issue of Russian military bases. Do you think that at some period Russian bases might become an obstacle for the present development of U.S.-Armenian relations?

Senator Hagel - When I had an opportunity to meet with President Kocharian here just a few minutes ago, we talked about the good news of the announcement made recently of the Russian military pulling out of Georgia. Armenia is a sovereign nation and the decisions that Armenia makes in its own self-interest are Armenia’s decisions. The friendship and partnership of Armenia and the United States is based on common interests. As to the Russian military presence in Armenia, that’s an issue that will be decided and worked out in the future between the Armenian and Russian governments. The United States and Armenia continue to work closely together with partnerships that affect both of our countries like, obviously, the support and assistance the Armenian Government is giving to the United States in the coalitions in Kosovo and Iraq, as well as in a number of trade and economic issues.

AR TV station – And as a continuation of the previous question, I would like to ask—don’t you think that the removal of the military bases from Georgia and their relocation in Armenia would create an imbalance in the region?

Senator Hagel - How do you mean imbalance?

AR TV station - The fact that Armenia will have more Russian military equipment on its territory.

Senator Hagel - Again, I would refer that question to President Kocharian. This is an issue between the Armenian Government and the Russian Government.

Public TV - In Armenia, when we have VIP delegations, we expect something from their arrival. Do you have something specific to tell us, or this is just a working visit, just for strengthening relations between our two countries?

Senator Hagel - As I noted before, it is a working visit to help strengthen the relationship between our countries. And as I said earlier, to thank the leaders of the five nations in this area that I have visited and will visit, and to talk about mutual challenges, mutual interests, and how our nations can further cooperate in this area, as Armenia and the United States continue to cooperate—military to military opportunities as well as economic and diplomatic efforts that we are working together on. However, I did give President Kocharian a set of cuff links.

Public TV - Would you please comment on your meeting with the Minister of Defense?

Senator Hagel - Yes, I had an opportunity to spend about an hour with the Minister of Defense. We talked about mutual military defense strategy issues. We talked about the war on terrorism. We talked about out partnerships in Iraq and Kosovo and working with NATO forces. Those were the general areas of conversation.

Associated Press – What is the United States’ assessment of Armenia’s peace keeping function? You mentioned you visit a peacekeeping battalion today—what is your impression?

Senator Hagel - I was very impressed with the time I spent with the leaders of the battalion and some of the men in the battalion. I had an opportunity to ask questions and be briefed on a number of aspects of the battalion, but it’s impressive and the United States is grateful for that participation.

Yerkir Media TV – My question is again about military bases. In Baku you mentioned that you are against relocating military bases from Georgia to Armenia. You said that that this equipment should not be placed in a sovereign country and it creates danger for the region. I would like to have further comments regarding this.

Senator Hagel - What I said and I will say again here, is that this is an issue between the two governments of Russia and Armenia. I have always believed in sovereign nations. They not only must act, but will act, in their own self interest. I think it has always been the policy of the United States, and I think it’s a good policy, that military presence of other nations in sovereign nations is not helpful in regions of the world where we are trying to bring peace and prosperity and settle very serious conflicts like Nagorno Karabakh. But the issue of whether additional Russian military equipment is moved from Georgia to Armenia, as well as troops—that again that will be an issue for the two governments of Russia and Armenia to work out.

Haykakan Zhamanak – I wanted to know if you gave a similar gift to the presidents of the other countries you visited and why in particular this gift was selected by you? And my second question is how you would assess the democratic processes in Armenia.

Senator Hagel - Well, first, the gift of cuff links. I like cuff links. And yes, they were selected by me. I selected them because they are cuff links that have the United States seal and the Senate seal on them. And yes, I have given a set of cuff links to each of the presidents of the countries that I have visited. I have been very impressed with the democratic reforms that have taken place in Armenia—the economic development, the rate of economic growth, and the prosperity that is developing. And I think it’s very good news for Armenia and the region. I was first in Armenia right after President Kocharian was first elected in 1998. So I have seen and heard and am aware of the significant progress made in Armenia since 1998. It’s important for Armenia to continue the democratic reforms that always anchor democracies and enhance freedom, and therefore enhance growth and development. That means fair, free, and open elections.

Arminfo news agency – What factors are considered in developing the U.S. approach to the issue of the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict? And the second question—has there been any progress by the White House on the issue of recognizing the Armenian Genocide?

Senator Hagel - Well, on Nagorno Karabakh, as you all know, the United States is one of the principals in the Minsk group helping Azerbaijan and Armenia come to a peaceful resolution. And as you know, the United States has a special envoy assigned to that effort in the way of Ambassador Steven Mann. The United Stated will continue to make every effort and do everything we can to work with Azerbaijan and Armenia to find a lasting, just, and peaceful resolution to Nagorno Karabakh. As you, I believe, know, President Bush has spoken to that directly, and it is an issue that I believe—and again I can’t speak for the President, but I believe as a United States Senator—is an issue should be dealt with openly and should be dealt with fairly. Historians and others should deal with it. But I don’t think that the United States Government should become involved in the issue based on a resolution or based in any way. What happened in 1915 happened in 1915. As one United States Senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why. The fact is that this region needs to move forward. We need to find a lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia and the other nations of this region. I am not sure that by going back and dealing with that in some way that causes one side or the other to be put in difficult spot, helps move the peace process forward.

Senator Hagel - Thank you all very much.