Monday, April 16, 2007

FWIB: Rice-Gates letter, Azeri FM in DC

Published in March 24, Armenian Reporter

From Washington, in Brief
by Emil Sanamyan

* Bush Administration relays Turkey’s threats in a letter and testimonies to Congress

A joint letter sent to the Congressional leadership on March 7 and signed by Secretaries of State and Defense Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates expressed the administration’s opposition to the passage of the proposed resolution affirming the Armenia Genocide. The House Resolution 106 (H. Res. 106) is currently backed by 182 congressmen.

In identical letters addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Republican Minority leader John Boehner (R-OH), and made public last week, the secretaries argued that passage would “harm … U.S. efforts to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia and to advance recognition by Turkey of the tragic events that occurred to ethnic Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. It would also significantly endanger U.S. national security interests…”

Ross Vartian of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee described this position as “capitulation to Turkish threats. The United States should instead reject such threats, call upon Turkey to face history, and re-affirm Armenian and American history.… We are confident that the Speaker Pelosi will schedule a vote on H. Res. 106 despite Turkish threats and the Bush Administration’s objections.”

“The Bush Administration is today loudly and aggressively seeking, on behalf of the Turkish government, to prevent members of the U.S. Congress from exercising their constitutional right to cast their votes on the Armenian Genocide Resolution,” said Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America. “In this unfortunate situation, it is left to us, as Armenian-Americans, to defend America’s core values.”

The Armenian Assembly of America repeated in a March 21 press release that it has “a fundamental policy disagreement with the administration” but would not qualify its position.

During March 21 House Foreign Operations Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the principal sponsor of H. Res. 106, grilled Secretary Rice about the administration’s reluctance to talk straight about the Genocide. Schiff asked if Rice, as an academic, had any doubts that the Ottoman Armenian experience constituted Genocide. Rice, as Secretary of State, dodged the question, saying that the issue is for Armenians and Turks, not the U.S., to deal with.

According to those in the room, the hearing ended with a bit of a ruckus created by activists from the pro-peace group CODEPINK ( ), who shouted against the war in Iraq, and that “Rice lies about the Armenian Holocaust!”

* * *
Little has changed since a similar letter was sent by the Clinton Administration to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) in October 2000, the last time Congress came close to voting on a measure affirming the Genocide. At the time, Secretaries of State and Defense Madeleine Albright and William Cohen also focused on Turkey’s threats to cut off cooperation with the U.S. against Iraq and terrorist threats as reason for Congress “not to go forward.”

In these intervening seven years, the only appreciable difference in the U.S. position is greater rhetorical “sensitivity” to the event of the Genocide itself. The Yerevan-based Mediamax news agency noted that the State Department began to stress this “non-denial” of the Genocide after forcing its Ambassador in Armenia John Evans to retract his by now well-known statements of two years ago.

But affirmation’s opponents in and outside the administration continue to legitimize Turkey’s arguments against the congressional resolution that essentially amount to threats of retaliation against the U.S., Armenia, and Turkish Armenians.

* * *
On March 15, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dan Fata and Special Envoy to Turkey Gen. (ret.) Joe Ralston aired the administration’s opposition before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe.

(Incidentally Ralston is also a vice chair of a Washington-based consultancy, the Cohen Group (, chaired by none other than ex-Secretary Cohen. Another vice chair is former Undersecretary of State and former Ambassador to Turkey Mark Grossman. The Cohen Group has a longstanding business alliance with the law and lobby group DLA Piper, which is currently in talks with the Turkish government about representing its interests in Washington.)

Fried introduced somewhat of a novelty into his testimony, referring to the Armenian Genocide as “ethnic cleansing” – a new term in the administration’s vocabulary that has just about exhausted alternatives as it seeks to avoid the term “genocide,” which is opposed by the Turkish government. A colleague also noted a stark difference between Secretary Fried’s prepared remarks, as posted on the Subcommittee website, and the remarks as they were actually delivered.

The prepared testimony claimed that according to unnamed Turkish Armenians, the resolution’s passage would “threaten their personal security.” But in his testimony as delivered, Fried claimed much more innocuously that the resolution “would stifle the dialogue [Turkish Armenians] seek and would … threaten the progress they have made in Turkey.”

A spokesperson for the State Department said that the change was merely editorial.

There were other oddities in Fried’s speech. Strained to find examples of Turkish-Armenian “dialogue” that could be “undermined” by the resolution, the State Department pointed to the fact that Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister was invited to Hrant Dink’s funeral and that USAID funded a conference on the potential benefits of border-opening, held in Yerevan last January. (The Reporter carried two stories on the conference, in its Jan. 20 and Feb. 10, 2007 editions.)

The hearing, broadly titled “U.S.-Turkish Relations and the Challenges Ahead,” was co-chaired by two long-time opponents of affirmation Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Dan Burton (R-IN).

None of the 23 House Foreign Affairs Committee members that have co-sponsored H. Res. 106 were available to speak in favor of the resolution, but several congressional offices said they have or will submit written questions to Secretary Fried.

* * *
Meanwhile, on March 14, the Associated Press referred to an unidentified Democratic congressional aide as saying that Speaker “Pelosi, who controls the House agenda, has no plan to bring the proposal before the House soon.” It added, however, that “final plans have not been approved.”

The AP also referred to a congressional staff aide who related that “it is understood that [Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom] Lantos, whose committee would deal with the resolution, was awaiting word from Pelosi.”

* Azeri official complains of Armenian diaspora on U.S. visit

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov was in New York and Washington this week to call on the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the U.S. government.

Speaking at Johns Hopkins University on March 21, he touted Azerbaijan’s growing “role in the region and the world” based on moneys generated from peaking hydrocarbon production. The event was moderated by Svante Cornell, the honorary doctor of Azerbaijan’s National Academy of Sciences, and the research director of the DC-based university’s Central Asia and Caucasus Institute.

Speaking of Azerbaijan’s decade-long efforts to achieve unilateral Armenian compromises over Karabakh, Mamedyarov said that this has been his overarching priority. He conceded that the parties are currently not close to an agreement.

“There are a few elements which [are] unfortunately playing a negative role – one of which is the Armenian diaspora,” Mamedyarov said without listing others. The remarks echoed those by his President Ilham Aliyev who has, incredibly, identified the diaspora as Azerbaijan’s main opponent in the conflict. The recent high-level Azeri-Turkish forum held in Baku (see the Reporter’s Mar. 17 edition) focused on ways to deal with the “powerful Armenian lobby.”

Asked by the Reporter to provide an estimate on the amount of money Azerbaijan is spending on countering the Armenian diaspora, Mamedyarov would not give a figure, but suggested that Azerbaijan’s efforts to “promote” itself will grow. Mamedyarov went on to encourage Armenians in the U.S. to be “more responsible” and not [sic!] help Armenian causes financially.

Later in the discussion one of Azerbaijan’s paid lobbyists in the audience, Bob Lawrence (, complained that Azerbaijan’s spending was small compared to that of Armenian-American advocacy groups. Lawrence, however, is possibly the least paid lobbyist on Azerbaijan’s employ at this time.

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