Saturday, August 2, 2008

Briefly: U.S. unhappy with Armenia SoE; Congressmen want cut on aid to Azer.; State Dept. HR and Brookings "state weakness" reports

This was first published in March 15, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S. says Armenia state of emergency “jeopardizes” aid programs, continues to call for dialogue

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a congressional panel on March 12 that the state of emergency in Armenia has “made it necessary to suspend” some of U.S. assistance programs. In comments before the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations she also warned that the state of emergency “is jeopardizing” Armenia’s eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid.

President Robert Kocharian introduced a 20-day state of emergency after March 1–2 clashes between rioters and police in Yerevan turned deadly. The measure brought calm but also temporarily curtailed freedom of assembly and speech. This week, the president, citing a relative return to stability, lifted some of the restrictions related to political parties and media.

On March 11, MCC chief executive officer Ambassador John Danilovich sent a letter to Mr. Kocharian officially warning that “MCC has the right to suspend or terminate” the program “when serious policy reversals occur” and that “recent events could have negative effects on Armenia’s eligibility for MCC funding.”

On March 13, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian acknowledged the warning, adding that “it all depends on how the United States evaluates things, on how quickly we can get out of this situation.

“Right now we are facing a dilemma: the country’s stability and the people’s security versus democratic values, liberties, civil rights,” Mr. Oskanian said. “The president of the republic is facing this dilemma. The situation is not clear-cut. He has to balance things, and that’s not an easy task.”

Armenia has so far received $11.3 million in MCC funding and a second tranche in the same amount has been expected in the next few months.

In a March 12 interview with RFE/RL, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza, who visited Armenia last week, said a way out of the Armenia crisis was to “launch a nationwide roundtable – including all major political parties – to chart the course forward to strengthen Armenia’s democracy” and “to restore the democratic momentum that had characterized Armenia’s political development until the period just after this last election.”

Before such an initiative could be launched, Mr. Bryza said, the government has to restore media freedoms and lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, adding that he has “a feeling that in the government of Armenia, people are thinking through how to do that, and so we can only urge them to [do that] as quickly as possible.

Mr. Bryza called on the government “to cease arrests of political leaders.” The Armenian government has charged some of these political leaders with illegal activities and said they would face prosecution.

He acknowledged that “brutality occurred on both sides” and that there is a need for “prosecuting people who used violence unlawfully or who were violating election law,” but stressed the need to look forward.

Date for congressional Armenian Genocide commemoration set

The U.S. Congress will host an annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 23 from 6 P.M. in the House Ways and Means Committee Room, co-chairs of the Armenian Caucus, Reps. Joe Knollenberg and Frank Pallone, announced in a March 11 news release.

On March 12–14, the Armenian National Committee of America together with the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net) brought together activists from more than a dozen states to advocate with members of Congress “in support of practical legislative initiatives to stop the genocide in Darfur and end Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide.”

Members of Congress question continued U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan

Members of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a March 12 hearing about the rationale for U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan while it continues to threaten war against Armenia.

Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.- Mich.) in particular suggested to “take away [U.S.]military funding [for Azerbaijan] or at least threaten it – because they are threatening Armenia.” Mr. Knollenberg specifically pointed to the deadly border skirmish initiated by Azerbaijan on March 4.

In her response, Dr. Rice argued that in order to achieve a peaceful settlement in Karabakh “the best approach is to continue to try to get both sides to act responsibly, to keep our aid programs in place to the degree that we can.” But Dr. Rice also agreed that a peace deal was not in sight “in the immediate future.”

Another subcommittee member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), also reiterated congressional concerns over administration’s proposal for higher military aid levels to Azerbaijan than to Armenia.

Mr. Knollenberg and fellow cochair of the Armenian Caucus Rep. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) issued a statement on March 12 regarding the March 4 skirmish: “As the Co- Chairs of the Armenian Caucus, we are deeply disturbed by the preventable loss of life along the Line of Contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan that took place on March 4th.

“It is troubling that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has acted on his history of warmongering rhetoric. While Armenia recovers from the last week’s turmoil, President
Aliyev attempted to cause further instability in the South Caucasus region.

“Despite President Aliyev’s initiation of the conflict, we urge all parties to uphold the ceasefire provisions agreed to after the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict of February 4, 1995. We continue to support Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence and commitment to the values of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights. We ask that all parties reject further military action and seek a peaceful solution.”

State Department revises controversial language in human rights report

The latest annual State Department Report on Human Rights Practices, released on March 11, revised its controversial passage which last year caused protests from Armenia and Azerbaijan. (See the April 28, 2007 issue of the Armenian Reporter.)

Last year, the report suggested that Armenia “continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories” – language more akin to Azerbaijan’s official position than that of the United States.

The revised language this year states that “ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories.”

While the United States recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, U.S. officials also typically clarify that “Karabakh’s status is a matter negotiations” and do not charge Armenia with “occupation.”

No immediate reaction to the new language was available from either Armenia or Azerbaijan.

Study measures state “weakness” around the world

The Washington-based Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development issued a report measuring relative state weakness of countries around the world.

The report, “Index of State Weakness in the Developing World,” issued on March 7, measured 141 developing countries “on their performance in fulfilling the four core
functions of statehood: providing security; maintaining legitimate political institutions; fostering equitable economic growth; and meeting their people’s human needs.”

As in similar studies in the past, Armenia was rated favorably in comparison to its neighbors and was only second to Ukraine in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan received the worst ratings in CIS.

“Given the role that weak states can play as incubators and breeding grounds for transnational security threats, building state capacity . . . should be a higher priority for U.S. policy,” the report argued.

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