TODAY Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan will be able to make his case for United States recognition of his republic's independence directly to President Bush. The Armenian leader, who easily won election last month, is in the first days of a visit to the US and Canada, the first overseas tour since Armenians overwhelmingly approved a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum on Sept. 21.The White House meeting "will give President Ter-Petrosyan and President Bush the chance to discuss Armenia's constitutional, peaceful road to independence and the ways in which the United States can properly respond," newly appointed Armenian Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian told reporters in Moscow on Monday before their departure for the US. The Armenian leadership has pursued a moderate path to independence. Among Soviet republics, Armenia alone followed the Soviet law on secession in conducting its popular referendum. But Mr. Ter-Petrosyan has expressed disappointment in the refusal of the West to recognize Armenian independence so far. "Definitely after the visit, the US will recognize Armenia," Mr. Hovannisian said, though "how much after I do not know. The US was one of the first countries which ... recognized the independence of the first Armenian republic and I'm sure as it views the situation in the rapidly changing Soviet Union, its policies will begin to comport more with the realities here." Armenia, a mountainous land in the southern Caucasus mountains, has signed the treaty to form an economic community among the republics of the former Soviet Union. But the Armenian government is not interested in any continued political union and seeks entry into the United Nations as its own state. Armenia's immediate problems arise from its conflict with the neighboring republic of Azerbaijan over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inside Azerbaijani territory. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev recently initiated a tentative process of talks to end the conflict, which has claimed hundreds of lives over the past three years. But fighting continues, and Azerbaijan recently triggered a severe economic crisis by cutting the pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Armenia. Armenian concerns about isolation may have been heightened by Turkey's decision last week to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan, a Muslim republic populated by ethnic Turks. "It's certainly natural for Turkey to recognize their ethnic cousins in Azerbaijan," Hovannisian says, but calls on Turkey, which also borders Armenia, to "play a constructive role in normalization of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations." Ter-Petrosyan will make contacts with the large and influential Armenian-American community, which makes up the majority of the 2 million-strong Armenian diaspora. The diaspora is well represented in his government by Foreign Minister Hovannisian, a Los Angeles lawyer who ran a relief program in Armenia after the disastrous 1988 earthquake. "I consider it an extension of the wonderful thing we grew up calling the 'American Dream,' playing my humble part in the revival of the land of my forefathers as it topples the legacy of communist totalitarianism," Hovannisian said of his new role.