Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Briefly: U.S. observers on Karabakh’s elections, U.S. report factually flawed, U.S.' relations with Turkey and France

First published in the September 22, 2007 Armenian Reporter

From Washington, in brief
by Emil Sanamyan

American election observers urge support for Karabakh’s democracy

In a briefing for Congress this week, members of the independent U.S. monitoring delegation praised the conduct of the recent presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh. The monitors urged support for continued democratization there through recognition of progress made and U.S. democracy-promotion programs that would help strengthen civil society and upgrade election infrastructure.

Currently, U.S. assistance to Karabakh is limited to humanitarian programs. Most of the American monitors are affiliated with the Public International Law & Policy Group (, a nonprofit that has monitored elections and provided advice to governments from the Balkans to Iraq to Sri Lanka. This was the fourth vote the group has monitored in Karabakh since 2002.

Speaking at the September 19 briefing, delegation head Amb. Vladimir Matic described Karabakh’s electoral conduct as one of the “best examples” of democratic practices that he and his colleagues have ever observed, having monitored elections in a dozen other conflict-affected parts of the world.

He also noted progress in the July 19 vote compared to earlier votes. Amb. Matic added that this progress has remained “largely unrecognized or even acknowledged” by the international community, including the United States and Europe.

A delegation member and former State Department lawyer Paul Williams added that while Karabakh’s democratization may be ignored publicly, in order not to antagonize
Azerbaijan while internationally mediated talks on status are ongoing, “behind the scenes it is strongly welcomed and encouraged.” Mr. Williams noted that “Karabakh has made much more progress in terms of its constitutional development” than Kosovo, whereas Kosovo was much further along in winning international recognition in spite of objections from Serbia. He urged Karabakh to take advantage of the Kosovo process and “grab the precedent” while it is on the world agenda.

The briefing was organized by the co-chairs of the Armenian congressional caucus and moderated by Nagorno-Karabakh’s Representative to the U.S., Vardan Barseghian.

State Department issues another flawed report

Yet another congressionally mandated report issued by the State Department contains flawed claims and figures apparently taking Azerbaijani allegations regarding Nagorno-Karabakh at face value. The department’s Human Rights Report issued last March contained similar passages and resulted in the department’s admission of “fallibility” and corrective letters to Congress (see this page in the June 2 Armenian Reporter ).

The International Religious Freedom Report 2007 released on September 14 calls Nagorno-Karabakh an “occupied region,” infers that certain Azerbaijani religious monuments may have been destroyed in Karabakh, and refers to the “estimated 10,000 to 30,000 ethnic Armenians,” which Azerbaijani officials frequently claim still live in Azerbaijan and present as “evidence” of its tolerance.

While Azerbaijan’s own census contradicts that last claim, there have also been no credible reports of the destruction of any monuments in Nagorno-Karabakh; on the contrary, one of the two mosques in Shushi is being currently restored.

At the same time, the report fully ignores the video and photographic evidence of the destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery in Nakhichevan and anti-Armenian vandalism elsewhere in Azerbaijan.

Senior U.S. official: relations with Turkey need to be “restored”

Ahead of his trip to Turkey this week, Undersecretary of State Nick Burns spoke on the state of the bilateral relationship on September 13, expressing hope for a “revival” in relations that would “restore” U.S.–Turkish ties after “particularly difficult” years in relations since 2002.

Mr. Burns spoke at the AtlanticCouncil of the United States, a Washington think tank, at a lectured sponsored by Raytheon, one of the largest U.S. weapons companies with interests in Turkey, and attended by a number of former U.S. officials who have since been working on behalf of Turkey.

The State Department number three official argued that “Turkey’s importance to the United States is even more pronounced at a time when the Middle East in the 21st century has replaced Europe in the 20th century as the most critical region for America’s core national security interests.”

As part of the effort to rebuild relations, Mr. Burns promised to create “mechanisms” to clamp down on anti-Turkey Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. At the same time, he acknowledged “tactical differences” between U.S. and Turkey on Iran’s nuclear program, describing the recent Turkish-Iranian agreement on energy cooperation as “troubling.”

Mr. Burns also said that “the U.S. and Turkey face a serious challenge with regard to Armenia.” He noted that while the Bush Administration has repeatedly acknowledged and condemned the “mass killings and forced deportations” in Ottoman Turkey, it still claims that “the passage of the U.S. House of Representative’s Resolution 106, which would make a political determination that the tragedy of 1915 constituted genocide, would undercut voices emerging in Turkey for dialogue and reconciliations concerning these horrific events.”

Once again, the senior U.S. official reiterated America’s call for “Turkey to normalize its relations and reopen its border with Armenia.” This call was echoed by the event’s moderator, Mr. Burns’ predecessor as undersecretary of state and former Ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman, who said that the border opening “without preconditions” would reflect Turkey’s “self-confidence.”

In a September 15 analysis of the speech, the Yerevan-based Media max news agency noted that such U.S. calls have gone unheeded since 1999, and that one gets “the impression that the Turkish side formed a strong immunity towards such kind of urges, and it just does not notice them.” It also described U.S. position on the Armenian Genocide an example of “political hypocrisy,” which “makes all the urges of the USA to Turkey meaningless.”

France draws nearer U.S. position on Iran

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on September 16 said on French national TV and radio that while the international community should continue to negotiate with Iran “to the end” on its nuclear program, it should also “prepare for the worst,” international news agencies reported.

Although Mr. Kouchner described a potential military conflict in Iran as “catastrophic,” he reiterated the President Nicolas Sarkozy’s earlier comments that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is “unacceptable” and appeared not to rule out a military attack on Iran.

RFE/RL cited a French security expert, Olivier Roy, as arguing that remarks reflected a change in French policy on Iran, which now “believe[s] that the threat of military action and economic pressure could put enough pressure on Iran” to suspend its nuclear program.

The comments caused consternation in Tehran, as well as Moscow, which Mr. Kouchner visited earlier in the week. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Reuters as saying on September 18 that “we are worried by reports that there is serious consideration being given to military action in Iran,” which he argued “is a threat to a region where there are already grave problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Kouchner also suggested tougher European Union sanctions on Iran that would go beyond those currently imposed by the United Nations, unless Iran suspends uranium enrichment, which Iranian leaders argue they are entitled to under existing agreements, claiming Iran’s program is peaceful.

During his visit to Washington on September 20 and 21, Mr. Kouchner reportedly urged U.S. official not to impose further unilateral sanctions on Iran, particularly on French companies doing business in Iran, and act in concert with Europe.

Mr. Sarkozy, elected president last May, has been seen as a proponent of closer ties between U.S. and France that had long been cool under his predecessor Jacques Chirac.

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