Matthew Bryza: U.S. ready to help Armenia study new nuclear plant options
This was originally published in August 11, 2007 Armenian Reporter
WASHINGTON – Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza has been the State Department manager for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, and Turkey for the last two years. On August 7, following his weeklong trip to the Caucasus capitals as well as Moscow, he spoke by telephone with our Washington editor Emil Sanamyan.
Reporter : On July 30-31 you were in Yerevan, which was part of a regional trip that also included Tbilisi, Moscow, and Baku. What can you tell us about the issues discussed in Armenia?
Bryza : I traveled there primarily in my capacity as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. The idea was to have the opportunity to explore all of the bilateral issues that I don’t ever have enough time to do if I come there just as a Minsk Group co-chair – when obviously all of our time gets chewed up with Minsk Group business [dealing with the Karabakh conflict].
[This time around] I had a chance to talk about the election, moving forward on democracy and democratic reform. I had some great discussions on energy diversification and a possible follow-on on the Metsamor [nuclear power] plant. We talked about general security cooperation between U.S. and Armenia, and I expressed, a couple of times, gratitude for what Armenia has done with us in Iraq, its contribution [there] which really means a lot to us. It means a lot!
Then of course, we spent some time talking about Karabakh as well.
Reporter : The Armenian government has made building a new nuclear power plant to replace Metsamor after its decommissioning a top priority. Most recently on May 30, President Robert Kocharian said that such a project is “justified both in terms of energy security and economically.” This issue has been discussed both with Russia, with which cooperation on this issue is long-standing, and U.S. Does U.S. have a position on this issue and are there any ongoing U.S.-Armenia consultations?
Bryza : Absolutely to all of the above. There are consultations, but they are very preliminary at this point, because the whole process of developing the follow-on investment to replace Metsamor is in its nascent phase. But we have for years encouraged Armenia to close down the reactor at Metsamor and always recognized that there needs to be a replacement.
We would like to do all we can to make sure that it is a safe and economically viable replacement. So we are in early stages of discussions. And much of what we do now focuses on making sure that Metsamor plant is as safe as possible in its remaining life-span. Because it is not going to be just a matter of flipping a switch at which point there would a follow-on power plant.
Also, we would love to continue our work with both Armenia and Georgia on possibility of electricity cooperation, [which could involve] a new nuclear power plant, as well as the current plan for a new 400 kilowatt [transmission] line linking Armenia and Georgia; we are very supportive of that.
Finally, on infrastructure we had an opportunity to talk about strengthening transit and commercial ties between Georgia and Armenia in the area of road building. It would be nice to link up [the Armenian-populated] Akhalkalaki with the Armenian road system.
Reporter : Last June Georgian leaders made public their interest in nuclear energy and Georgia’s Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli linked that interest to Armenia’s plans for a new plant. Have the relevant parties come together to discuss this issue?
Bryza : That is up to the countries to work out between themselves. And on this trip, I encouraged the Georgian leadership to talk to their friends and counterparts in Armenia to see if the economics wouldn’t make sense for there to be a one shared plant or two plants. The economics might dictate that there is a need for two plants and that there is a way to share electricity generation and exports. That is for them to think through. But we support that and any such cooperation.
Reporter : [A few months ago, the Armenian service of Radio Liberty carried comments by Tom Adams, the State Department coordinator for assistance to former Soviet states, reportedly made in May 2006 that “especially given the geology here, the earthquake zone, it might be better to come up with an alternative to a second nuclear power plant. Right now, we are leaning against that option.”]
In general, does U.S. have any concerns about plans for a new, safe nuclear power plant constructed in Armenia or Georgia for that matter?
Bryza : No. As long as a plant is safe and up fully to international safety standards, then we are happy to help Armenia explore its options to do just that.
Reporter : Prior and during your visit you praised the conduct of Armenia’s parliamentary election held last May as “freest and fairest election in this phase of Armenia’s independence” and they “brought the Armenian electoral process closer to international standards than any previous election.”
You added however that “there is still some room to go” presumably to improve some of the aspects of election-handling. What are these issues and are they being discussed in run-up to presidential elections early next year?
Bryza : At this point, I am not in a position to say which specific priorities there are, because the parliamentary elections just happened in May and presidential elections are ways away. We are just in early phases of coming up with our conclusions as to where the shortcomings may be. And we are doing that in conjunction with OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), because they are the real experts. Over the next few months we will sit down with OSCE and the government of Armenia to see what additional steps are ought to be taken. We anticipate and hope that the Armenian government would do that with us.
Reporter : Staying on the subject of elections, Nagorno Karabakh elected a new president on July 19. Prior to that, on July 13, you along with Russian and French co-chairs issued a statement claiming that that the “presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh have already caused an increase in tensions.” Could you elaborate on how elections there cause an “increase in tensions” and have they really?
Bryza : Did we say that? [Pauses.] Well, they do. Because the holding of a presidential election against the backdrop of a claim of the status having been settled could imply that such an action is pre-judging the outcome of negotiations on that very status to be settled in the future. The whole point is we don’t favor any steps that would prejudge negotiations on status.
Reporter : Still, the term “elected representatives” of Nagorno Karabakh had been used in OSCE documents pertaining to the conflict. And people living in Karabakh should be able to exercise self-governance even before their status is settled internationally. You would probably agree that doing so through elections is not a bad thing?
Bryza : I would probably agree that effective self-government based on democratic principles is generally a very good thing. But the Co-chairs’ statement of course speaks for itself in terms of the current context of where the negotiations are.
Reporter : While the Karabakh negotiations process is taking a bit of a break, there are reports of a new resolution being floated by Azerbaijan among other countries at the United Nations’ General Assembly that essentially endorses the Azeri position on Karabakh. This is something that was tried in the past, but a vote was never scheduled. In those past instances, the U.S. did not take a favorable position on bringing this issue to the UN General Assembly. Has anything changed on that?
Bryza : I would say that any country in the world has the right to bring any issue it wishes to the United Nations’ General Assembly. That is the right that every UN member has. So, in principle we do not oppose countries’ inscribing into the agenda discussion of any item.
The real question is whether the United States would support any particular resolution. In the case of Nagorno Karabakh settlement, I can just say, as we stated over and over again, that we believe that the question of status of Nagorno Karabakh needs to be resolved on the basis of a compromise, on the basis of Helsinki principles, United Nations [Security Council] resolutions. So, I can’t pre-judge on what our stance would be on any [UN General Assembly] resolution until we see the way it is actually phrased.
Reporter : The nomination of Amb. Richard Hoagland to be Ambassador to Armenia was withdrawn last week. Can you give us any ideas in terms of a nomination of a new candidacy? Also, the issue of the Armenian Genocide was
central as to how the nomination process evolved in Mr. Hoagland’s case. What can State Department do to make this process a less painful one?
Bryza : This is not our call. From our perspective, Ambassador Hoagland was unfairly maligned. His statements were taken way out of context in a way that was not fair or did not accurately represent his views or the policies of the United States government. So, there is nothing that we can do to change that. It is a question of what people on the outside wish to do.
I can’t comment on the possibility of a new nominee – that is something for the White House to do. But Ambassador Hoagland never denied anything and he was treated deeply unfairly. And it was a real loss for anybody who cares about not only U.S.-Armenia relations, but Armenia itself that an Ambassador of the caliber of Dick Hoagland would not be going to Armenia and the fact that we had such a long gap in having an Ambassador there.
Reporter : On July 23, speaking at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, you referred to the likelihood of the House Resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide coming to a vote this fall, and said that “we really need something from the Turkish government that… moves towards normalization of relations with Armenia, it is time for that to happen.” We have been here before, with resolutions in Congress causing Turkey to reassess its policy on Armenia, although no major changes have been made so far. Do you see any indication from Turkey that its government may again be thinking of normalization following its reelection last month?
Bryza : It is not appropriate for me to speak on behalf of the Turkish government. I can tell you what the United States does in this regard. And that is we encourage constantly our Turkish allies and friends to reach out to Armenia to move towards normalizing of relations. And those conversations remain intense.
From our view it is really important that in the current climate of Turkish politics, where I would argue that a very successful election just took place. An election that underscores how vibrant and healthy the Turkish democracy is. That there be a move forward, hopefully as soon as possible, in terms of normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia.
Reporter : With six countries under your belt in addition to conflict management and energy issues, what keeps you up at night these days?
Bryza : We talked about Nagorno Karabakh and there is heck of a lot going on in Georgia. Just today, there was another aerial attack on Georgian territory which we condemned. [See this week’s From Washington, In Brief.] Just working with Georgia to deepen its economic and political reform and help Georgia achieve its own aspirations for NATO membership. That takes a lot of time.
The other burning issue is helping the European Union achieve its own stated objective of diversification of energy supplies. I work on that a heck of a lot. I spend a lot of time of thinking through the proper way to help not only our allies, but ourselves to integrate our Muslim populations into our democratic societies in a way that allows for these Muslim populations to be proudly Muslim and fully American or fully European and that is another burning issue.
Reporter : How exactly are you involved in that last issue?
Bryza : I’d rather not specify exactly what we are doing, but we have outreach programs in our individual embassies, we are trying to empower moderate scholars who share the belief that there is a crucial debate going within the Muslim world about indigenous traditions versus narrower interpretations of Islam that are often extremist and view jihad as an external struggle that involves violence.
We have to work with our partners in the Muslim world who share our view and our desire that the modernizing and broader interpretations of Islam are able to flourish.
Reporter : There was an article in a Turkish newspaper recently suggesting that you are about to become U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, any truth to that?
Bryza : I am not planning to go to Cyprus. I choose to stay in this
job for at least another year because it really means a lot to me. It is the greatest job in the world. The things I get to do here, the people I get to interact with, the grand strategic thought and tactical limitation – I am not ready to give this up. So, I am staying right here.
Since June 2005 Mr. Bryza has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and since June 2006, concurrently as U.S. envoy for Nagorno- Karabakh and co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. From 2001 to 2005 he was the National Security Council Director for the Aegean, Caucasus, and Central Asia – a key White House office that coordinates U.S. policy in the region.
Mr. Bryza joined the State Department in 1989, and his assignments since included advisor (1998–99) and then deputy envoy (1999–2001) in the office dealing with Caspian energy development; advisor in the office dealing with U.S. assistance to former Soviet states (1997–98); and postings with U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia and Poland. Mr. Bryza earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford and Master’s degree from Tufts University. He is fluent in Russian and Polish.