Saturday, August 2, 2008

Briefly: U.S. on Armenia elections and aid; Armenia-Georgia military coop.; Azeris upset over Kosovo, to push at UN GA res. on NK; Russian politics

This was first published in March 1, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

State Department, members of Congress offer congratulations over Armenia elections

In a February 22 statement, the U.S. State Department “congratulated the people of Armenia on the active and competitive presidential elections on February 19.”

The statement took note of preliminary conclusions by Western observers that the election was conducted “mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections.”

It also noted remaining “significant problems with electoral procedures,” praised the holding of recounts in a number of precincts, and urged the Armenian government
to address shortcomings “to improve future elections.”

In reference to continuing opposition protests over the election, State Department spokesperson Tom Casey added in the February 25 briefing that all election-related “disputes need to be settled within the confines of Armenia’s constitution and political system.”

Unlike other world leaders, President George W. Bush has not yet sent a message to President-elect Serge Sargsian. Similarly, President Bush did not communicate with President Robert Kocharian on his re-election until after his inauguration on April 9, 2003.

Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues (which includes more than 150 House members)
published a letter they sent to President-elect Sargsian congratulating him on his election. The February 26 letter also said the election “proved [Armenia’s] commitment to free and fair elections” and offered to work with the next president “to help address the important issues facing Armenia.”

Mr. Sargsian also received congratulations from Armenian-American community leaders, including Kirk Kerkorian, Gerard Cafesjian, Berge Setrakian, Hirair Hovnanian, and the leadership of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

U.S. official: assistance to Armenia a “success story”

The U.S. Director for Foreign Assistance and head of the U.S. Agency for International Development Henrietta Fore offered praise for the progress made in Armenia with the help of U.S. assistance during a congressional briefing this week.

The Armenian Assembly of America reported that during a February 27 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Ms. Fore was queried by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.) about the administration’s proposed cut in aid to Armenia.

As Secretary Condoleezza Rice before her (see this page in the February 16 Armenian
Reporter), Ms. Fore appeared to justify the reduction in USAIDadministered funding by pointing to expanding aid under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

Ms. Fore went on to say that the administration was “very pleased” about progress in Armenia and that “it is indeed a success story.”

“It troubles me that MCA funding continues to be used to explain the vast reduction in aid to Armenia,” Rep. Knollenberg told the Assembly. “MCA funding for Armenia,
which supports rural roads and irrigation infrastructure development, should not be used as a justification to cut [other] funding.”

U.S. continues aid to Armenia’s peacekeepers

Armenia’s Peacekeeping Battalion, elements of which are deployed in Kosovo and Iraq, received a new batch of U.S. communications equipment valued at $3 million, the U.S. Embassy in Armenia reported on February 27. The previous consignment of communications gear arrived in August 2007.

The equipment includes field radios and supporting equipment purchased from the Harris Corporation in the U.S. The aid is intended to contribute to Armenia’s inter-operability with Western-led forces in peacekeeping operations under the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

This year, the U.S. is also expected to provide transport trucks, uniforms, field equipment and additional communications equipment to help expand the battalion into a brigade.

Armenia, Georgia to launch military cooperation

Armenian Defense Minister Mikhail Harutiunian’s visit to Georgia this week is expected to mark the start of bilateral military cooperation between the two countries, Armenian and Georgian news agencies reported this week.

Such cooperation has been absent even though the two neighbors have close economic ties, and are also cooperating through NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

Between February 28 and March 1, Mr. Harutiunian met with the Georgian president and other leaders and visited with U.S.-trained Georgian Special Forces unit. As an initial steps toward cooperation, the two countries are due to appoint defense attaches at their respective embassies and establish a defense working group.

Azerbaijan to pull out of Kosovo, and to renew push for UN resolution on Karabakh

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev indicated that he will pull out a small Azerbaijani unit that has served with the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, Reuters reported on February 28. An Azerbaijani official said that the move came due to a “sharply changed political scene.”

At the same time, at the United Nations General Assembly, Azerbaijan introduced yet another resolution supporting its claim on Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has introduced similar resolutions in the past, but has not brought them to a vote on the insistence of France, Russia, and the United States – the countries that are jointly involved in the Karabakh mediation effort.

Both moves came following the recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral independence by Western countries; in the words of Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tigran Balayan, the moves reflect Azerbaijan’s “panic” over the development. Mr. Balayan said that Armenia would continue to oppose the Azerbaijan-initiated United Nations resolution.

Unlike its ally Turkey, which recognized Kosovo, Azerbaijan called Kosovo’s independence “illegal.” Russia has also opposed it.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian said on February 29 that the Kosovo precedent would play a positive role in the international recognition of Nagorno-
Karabakh’s independence, Regnum news agency reported the same day.

[Knollenberg, Pallone send letter to Rice asking for public rebuke of Azerbaijani president

WASHINGTON – Representatives Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D.-N.J.), cochairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, along with over 50 of their colleagues sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for a public rebuke of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev for his recent threatening comments regarding war with Armenia.

“It has been 20 years since the liberation movement in Nagorno- Karabakh and still today the president of Azerbaijan is threatening war over this territory. Azerbaijan can no longer spew hatred and war threats towards Armenia without a public international response.” Knollenberg and Pallone said.

“Enough is enough. It is time for the U.S. Department of State to hold Aliyev and his government accountable for their words. Armenia is an ally and friend to the United States and threatening to go to war with an ally is never acceptable.”

“A peaceful resolution to this conflict can and must be achieved. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh agree that peaceful negotiations are the way forward. It is now time for President Aliyev to rescind his vicious statements and come to the negotiating table.”

The letter was cosigned by Gary Ackerman (D.-N.Y.), Gus Bilirakis (R.-Fla.), Dennis Cardoza (D.-Calif.), Jim Costa (D.-Calif.), Jerry Costello (D.-Ill.), Joseph Crowley (D.-N.Y.), Danny K. Davis (D.-Ill.), Lloyd Doggett (D.-Tex.), Anna Eshoo (D.- Calif.), Chaka Fattah (D.-Pa.), Barney Frank (D.-Mass.), Elton Gallegy (R.-Calif.), Scott Garrett (R.-N.J.), Charles Gonzalez (D.-Tex.), Raul Grijalva (D.-Ariz.), Maurice Hinchey (D.-N.Y.), Michael Honda (D.-Calif.), Rush Holt (D.-N.J.), Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.), Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), James Langevin (D.-R.I.), Sander Levin (D.-Mich.), Daniel Lipinski (D.-Ill.), Frank LoBiondo (R.-N.J.), Stephen Lynch (D.-Mass.), Carolyn Maloney (D.-N.Y.), Edward Markey (D.-Mass.), Betty McCollum (D.-Minn.), Thaddeus McCotter (R.-Mich.), James McGovern (D.-Mass.), Howard McKeon (R.-
Calif.), Michael McNulty (D.-N.Y.), Candice Miller (R.-Mich.), Grace Napolitano (D.-Calif.), Colin Peterson (D.-Minn.), George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.), Steven Rothman (D.-N.J.), Bobby Rush (D.-Ill.), Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.), John Sarbanes (D.-Md.), Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), Chris Shays (R.-Conn.), Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), Mark Souder (R.-Ind.), Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.), Tim Walz (D.-Minn.), Diane Watson (D.-Calif.), Anthony Weiner (D.-N.Y.), Albert Wynn (D.-Md.)

USAPAC has urged Armenian- Americans to call these representatives and thank them for cosigning the letter. They can be reached at (202) 224-3121.

U.S. Russia watchers weigh in on Putin-Medvedev succession
Washington-based Russia experts say the March 2 vote for the next Russian president should be viewed not as an “election,” but rather a “succession,” according to a discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Feb. 28.

On March 2, Russians are expected to vote in President Vladimir Putin’s former aide Dmitry Medvedev as his successor; with Mr. Putin himself becoming Prime Minister.

“The good news,” said Andrew Kuchins, the CSIS Director for Russia and Eurasia, “is that we have heard no anti-Western rhetoric from Mr. Medvedev. The bad news is that he has said nothing about [foreign affairs] … This shows that Putin will take the lead role for some time,” he said.

Sarah Mendelson, director of the CSIS Human Rights and Security Initiative, agreed that Mr. Putin’s potential role would see “Russia shifting towards the Prime Minister system, which means that Putin would [still] be the primary figure for some time to come.” She added that Russia would “take advantage of declining U.S. influence.”

“We have seen that iPods, lattes, and skateboards, and other elements of Western culture do not, alas, translate into a desire for free media and [democracy],” she said.

Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, cited Russia’s significant economic growth over the past eight years, and said that this growth would most likely continue – a factor that he says contributes to the country’s corruption.

“Countries that are as rich and educated are normally democratic. Russia is an extreme outlier,” he said, calling Mr. Putin’s administration “about the most corrupt
regime we have ever seen.”

—Alexa Millinger contributed to this briefing.

No comments: