Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Briefly: Russian displeasure on U.S.-Armenia nuclear proposal, Fried on Karabakh, GUAM issues a new draft resolution, Dink honored in Austria

This was originally published in December 15, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

by Emil Sanamyan

Russia displeased with U.S. role in Armenia’s nuclear energy plans
Russia’s former minister of nuclear energy Viktor Mikhailov expressed hope that “Armenia would accept Russia’s proposal and decline U.S. assistance” in the effort to build a new nuclear power plant, the Regnum news agency reported on December 6.

On November 21, the United States agreed to fund a $2 million feasibility study that would help determine the best technical solutions to replacing the aging reactor at the Metsamor power plant with a new nuclear energy-generating capacity. (See the story on page A1 of the November 24 Armenian Reporter.)

Armenia’s government has made building a new nuclear energy plant in the next several years a top priority and has reached out to the United States as well as Russia and other states for potential assistance.

Russia was first to react positively. During a visit to Armenia last April, Russian nuclear energy director Sergei Kirienko offered assistance with both construction and funding for the new plant, which is estimated to cost up to $2 billion. Since then U.S. officials have also expressed interest, resulting in the feasibility agreement.

Speaking on November 29, Armenia’s energy minister, Armen Movsisian, expressed confidence that several countries would be ultimately involved in the project.

Mr. Mikhailov, who currently holds a senior position at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, was the nuclear energy minister at the time when Russia assisted Armenia in reactivating the Metsamor plant in the mid-1990s.

“When someone is playing a double game, it is difficult to make predictions,” Mr. Mikhailov said, but expressed hope that Armenia would stick with Russia on nuclear energy. He agreed with a suggestion that U.S. assistance was part of an effort to “strengthen political influence in Armenia.”

Senior U.S. diplomat takes issue with Azerbaijani policies, urges deal on Karabakh
“It is time to wrap up agreement on the Basic Principles of a Nagorno Karabakh settlement,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried speaking at an Azerbaijani-government organized conference in Washington on December 10.

Mr. Fried was referring to the joint proposal made by U.S., Russian, and French diplomats during the November 28 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Madrid. (See this page in the December 1 and 8 Armenian Reporter.)

Speaking at that meeting, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, broadly welcomed the proposal. Azerbaijani officials did not react immediately with President Ilham Aliyev taking a two-week vacation. On December 10, they requested additional time to study it, local media reported.

“The South Caucasus cannot achieve its full potential in the absence of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement,” Mr. Fried said, according to a transcript released by the State Department. “As long as Armenia remains isolated in its region, a common vision of prosperity and freedom, and therefore stability, will not be attainable.”

Speaking with regional journalists last April, Mr. Fried addressed Azerbaijani military threats against Armenians, warning that “war will destroy everything Azerbaijan is trying to do.”

This week, the State Department official was also blunt about the continued crackdown on dissent in Azerbaijan, saying that the United States was “deeply disturbed” by it. Mr. Fried referred to Azerbaijan’s growing oil revenues and urged democratization, arguing that “sudden wealth unchecked by strong, honest institutions to handle it can fatten a small group of well-placed leaders rather than strengthen a nation.”

The conference on “The Azerbaijan-Turkey-U.S. Relationship,” which Mr. Fried addressed, continued in Los Angeles on December 13. According to the Azerbaijani consulate there, in addition to Azerbaijani and Turkish speakers, it also featured Beverly Hills, Calif., mayor Jimmy Jamshid Delshad.

GUAM states introduce a new UN draft resolution on post-Soviet conflicts
The governments of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova (GUAM) have again requested that the United National General Assembly express support for Soviet-era administrative borders as the basis for their territorial integrity.

The four-state grouping formally introduced the draft on December 4. The draft resolution’s text refers to Nagorno-Karabakh as a “region of the Republic of Azerbaijan” and calls for “support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova and the inviolability of their internationally recognized borders.”

It is so far unclear when and if the UN General Assembly may consider the draft resolution. GUAM states had introduced a similar resolution last year, but then withdrew it prior to a vote being scheduled. (See this page in September 8 and November 3 Armenian Reporter.)

Unlike UN Security Council resolutions, those by the UN General Assembly are nonbinding, but they carry symbolic and political significance.

Armenia has already expressed its opposition to the most recent proposal. Speaking on November 28, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian noted Azerbaijan’s “active and aggressive search for alternative international forums in which to present their case” among the factors that undermine the peace process.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vladimir Karapetian told Regnum news agency on December 10 that Armenia will work to prevent the proposal’s passage.

Late Hrant Dink recognized as “World Press Freedom Hero”
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) – a network of journalists, editors, and others who work in the media – this week honored Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian editor who was killed in Istanbul last January, as one of its World Press Freedom Heroes.

The award was presented to Mrs. Rakel Dink on December 10. Mr. Dink worked to improve Turkish-Armenian relations and opposed the Turkish government’s censorship of topics such as the Armenian Genocide and continued discrimination against the remaining members of the Armenian community. (http://www.freemedia.at)

Minority Rights Group issues new report on Turkey
Also this week, the Minority Rights Group International, a Britain-based charity, issued a report that highlighted the Turkish government’s continued repression of minority groups.

The report “A Quest for Equality: Minorities in Turkey” noted that “instead of celebrating diversity, the history of the Republic of Turkey is one of severe and sometimes violent repression of minorities in the name of nationalism.”

Nareg Seferian contributed to this week’s column.

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