Thursday, July 31, 2008

Briefly: Nuclear power; Nick Burns; “Genocide Prevention Task Force;” EU on Caucasus and Saakashvili's inauguration

This was originally published in January 26, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

by Emil Sanamyan

American nuclear energy official visits Armenia
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Peter Lyons was in Armenia January 21–22 to discuss the Armenian government’s plans to build a new nuclear power plant to replace the existing one at Metsamor before 2016.

The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan reported that Mr. Lyons’ talks focused on how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “can help Armenia to develop the regulatory infrastructure needed in order to license a new nuclear power plant.”

Last November, the United States agreed to fund a $2 million environmental impact and technical feasibility study that would help the Armenian government choose the best technical solutions and project logistics.

During a visit to Armenia last April, Russia’s chief nuclear energy regulator Sergei Kirienko offered assistance with both construction and funding for the new nuclear power plant. (See this page in the December 15, 2007, edition of the Armenian Reporter .) Russia has been the sole nuclear fuel supplier to Armenia and its electricity monopoly RAO UES currently manages Metsamor.

The Armenian energy minister, Armen Movsisian, has said that he anticipates involvement by several countries in what is variously estimated to be a $1 to $2 billion project.

Top U.S. diplomat to retire “for personal reasons”
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns intends to retire this March “to go back to family concerns,” the State Department announced on January 18. The administration intends to nominate the current ambassador to Russia, Bill Burns (not related), to replace him.

Since 2005 the outgoing undersecretary has been the U.S. diplomat in charge of negotiating international sanctions against Iran, the future status of Kosovo, mending of U.S.-Turkish relations, as well as a U.S.-India agreement on nuclear energy. Mr. Burns, 51, is due to continue to deal with the India issue after his retirement, when he intends “to pursue other ventures outside the government.”

The Los Angeles Times noted on January 19 that the move came “amid signs that U.S. efforts on key issues have been losing momentum.” As undersecretary, Mr. Burns was the public face of the department, frequently announcing and articulating U.S. foreign policy initiatives.

Last September, shortly before taking a trip to Ankara, he acknowledged difficulties in U.S.-Turkish relations since 2002 and spoke on the need to “restore” bilateral ties, particularly through “mechanisms” to clamp down on anti-Turkey Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

He said at the time that while the Bush Administration has repeatedly acknowledged and condemned the “mass killings and forced deportations” in Ottoman Turkey, it opposes “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.”

That pronouncement was followed by aggressive administration lobbying against the Armenian Genocide resolution in October, a Turkish prime minister’s visit to Washington in November, and provision of U.S. intelligence to help Turkish military operations in northern Iraq since last December.

Members of Congress urge “Genocide prevention task force” to learn from Armenian experience
Four lead co-sponsors of the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide wrote to the co-chairs of the recently launched anti-genocide initiative on January 17 “to ensure that the lessons of the Armenian Genocide are used to help prevent future genocides.”

The letter, co-signed by Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.), Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.), Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), and George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), was made available to the Armenian Reporter by Mr. Pallone’s staff.

“When addressing U.S. policy on genocide,” the representatives argued, “no serious discussion can take place that does not cover the extensive U.S. record documenting the American response to the Armenian Genocide, as well as the modern-day impact of the ongoing denial of this crime,” it read.

The “Genocide prevention task force” is co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and Bill Cohen, former Clinton Administration secretaries of state and defense, respectively. They intend to issue a report on the subject by December of this year.

As former secretaries launched the “task force” last November, they repeatedly heard questions, including from this newspaper, about their credibility on the issue. (See this page in the November 17, 2007, edition of the Armenian Reporter .) Ms. Albright and Mr. Cohen have advocated against congressional affirmation of the Armenian Genocide while both in and out of government.

European Parliament wants “more effective” Caucasus policy
The European Union (EU) was urged to “develop a clear profile and stronger presence” in the Caucasus in a resolution passed by the European Parliament on January 17, the European Armenian Federation (EAF) reported.

The resolution expressed support for “an inbuilt differentiation in the application of the [EU] policy towards the countries concerned . . . according to their individual merits”. The resolution particularly welcomes “internal political and institutional reforms undertaken by Armenia” since 2005 and urges further progress; it is also generally supportive of Georgia, although expressing concern over its government’s crackdown on opposition last November; and it is critical “of the deterioration of the human rights situation and media freedom in Azerbaijan.”

The EAF criticized the resolution for avoiding a mention of the Armenian Genocide, instead referring to “past events,” and failing to clearly condemn Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian policies and rhetoric. Moreover, the original text prepared by MEP from Luxemburg (and its former foreign minister) Lydie Polfer also included a line endorsing “internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.”

The final version retained that reference while also expressing support for “the right to self-determination, in accordance with UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act” and claiming “that the contradiction between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity contributes to the perpetuation of the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus region,” Armenpress reported.

President inaugurated in Georgia as opposition protests
Mikhail Saakashvili was inaugurated for a second term as Georgian president on January 20, local media reported.

The inauguration was attended by presidents of the three Baltic States, Poland, and Romania, as well as ministerial delegations from the U.S., Russia, Armenia, and elsewhere. The inauguration went ahead while many thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Tbilisi to protest it as illegitimate.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Saakashvili pledged to focus on overcoming poverty in Georgia’s provinces and improving relations with Russia and the political opposition, which accuses him of rigging the vote to avoid a runoff. Mr. Saakashvili was certified the winner of January 5 election with over 53% of the vote, roughly 70,000 votes above the fifty percent plus one vote threshold.

In Washington, long-time Georgia analyst Dr. Charles Fairbanks of the Hudson Institute argued on January 16 that at least 80,000 votes were added to Mr. Saakashvili’s total and his re-election in the first round was therefore invalid. The opposition claimed days after the election that as many as 110,000 votes were stolen. (See this page in the January 12 edition of the Armenian Reporter .)

But Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza told RFE/RL earlier this week that the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi concluded that while “there were irregularities of concern, there was no systematic attempt we saw to use massive fraud to change the result of the election.”

President Bush called to congratulate Mr. Saakashvili on January 14. Mr. Bryza urged the opposition to “move forward . . . accept the results and prepare for parliamentary elections,” which he said should be conducted “better.”

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