This was first published in March 22, 2008 Armenian Reporter
U.S. official sees return of democratic momentum
Expects specific OSCE proposals to strengthen Karabakh cease-fire
WASHINGTON – Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza has been the U.S. State Department’s point man for relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, and Turkey since 2005; from 2001 to 2005 he held a similar portfolio at the National Security Council. He is also the U.S. co-chair for the Karabakh mediation effort under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
On March 20 Mr. Bryza discussed the most recent developments in Armenia with the Armenian Reporter’s Washington editor Emil Sanamyan.
“Fair and balanced” Karabakh deal within reach
Reporter: On March 19 Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was reported by RFE/RL as saying that Azerbaijan is “trying to start, through the OSCE Secretariat, a process of the dissolution of the Minsk Group,” which has led international mediation in Karabakh since 1992. Can you confirm that such an effort is underway?
Bryza: I know there has been an inquiry from the Azerbaijani mission to the OSCE about what would be the procedures were any country to wish to withdraw from the Minsk Group. But I do not know about anything that went beyond an inquiry.
So when I read Mr. Oskanian’s statement it was news to me, and I have not seen confirmation that the Azerbaijani effort had in fact moved that far.
Reporter: We have also heard from the Azerbaijani ambassador Vilayat Guliyev that the Minsk Group that you co-chair with the French and the Russians has been “useless” and its approach to the conflict “tendentious and one-sided,” as day.az reported on March 19.
Overall, there seems to be an effort by Azerbaijan to pressure the co-chair countries in the wake of the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) vote on March 14(see story on page A3). What is happening there?
Bryza: Ambassador Guliyev, with all due respect, is not participating in negotiations under the Minsk Group and I would presume is not aware of the details of what is on the table.
And what is on the table is a fair and balanced compromise that includes elements that are attractive to Azerbaijan, an interpretation of which was cited in the UN GA resolution, but there are also many elements that are very attractive to Armenia that were not cited in that resolution.
So I do not think that any of the people that are out there criticizing the Minsk Group proposals are aware of what is really in the proposal.
Reporter: The Minsk Group statement on March 19 suggested resuming presidential-level negotiations as soon as possible. Do you expect a meeting between Armenia’s president-elect Serge Sargsian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during the upcoming NATO summit in Romania, which both plan to attend? What would be the agenda for such a meeting?
Bryza: What we said is that it would be useful for there to be a meeting between the presidents as soon as they are ready to meet. I do not know when that is going to happen. It could be [at the NATO summit] or just after that.
The calendar is a bit complicated in that President-elect Sargsian will not be inaugurated until April 9, and the summit in Romania is from April 2 to 4. So Prime Minister Sargsian will not yet be the president. So, there is a protocol problem, which could lead to a delay, but it is up to them if they get together there. And if they don’t, they would be able to meet shortly thereafter.
[In terms of agenda], it is clear now that the president-elect of Armenia is in favor of continuing on the basis of the proposal on the table [as it was presented at the OSCE ministerial meeting in Madrid last November].
Reporter: On a related issue, former Nagorno-Karabakh deputy foreign minister Massis Mayilian proposed several measures for strengthening of the cease-fire, in particular expansion of Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk’s monitoring group and tactical disengagement of forces along the Line of Contact (see the March 15 issue of the Armenian Reporter.) Are those issues on the Minsk Group agenda?
Bryza: Yes they are. And we rely heavily on Ambassador Kasprzyk’s expertise and advice on what specific measures could be taken. It would probably be useful to increase the distance of separation between the forces along the Line of Contact, but specific ways to implement those sorts of improvements to the cease-fire regime require consultation and analysis of Ambassador Kasprzyk’s group. So when [the Minsk Group co-chairs] do get together in Romania next month, we will be able to come up with some specific proposals.
Reporter: The February 4, 1995, document, called an “Arrangement on strengthening the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict” was referenced in one of the recent Minsk Group statements. Is there an effort to make sure that it is implemented? Not in the least since it is really the only agreement signed by the parties in addition to the May 1994 cease-fire agreement?
Bryza: Of course we expect that the sides fully implement pre existing agreements. But which aspects have not been implemented? You know [that] the cease-fire is more or less respected. Are there elements in particular you have in mind?
Reporter: As the former Russian mediator Ambassador Vladimir Kazimirov described this arrangement [to the Armenian Reporter, see the January 26, 2008, issue] it sets out the complaint and investigation procedure regarding cease-fire violations as well as direct contact between commanders in the field. It does not appear that any of that has been implemented in the 13 years since the time the arrangement was signed.
Bryza: Yes, one of the issues we need to explore is to improve communication between commanders along the Line of Contact. Right now I cannot assess how far that agreement has or has not been implemented; that requires real experts from [Ambassador Kasprzyk’s] group.
The short answer is yes, we want all aspects of that agreement to be implemented.
Reporter: Following the UN GA vote initiated by Azerbaijan, there has been talk in Armenia that perhaps it is time to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
There is a proposal by the opposition Heritage Party in parliament to recognize NKR. Considering the postelection situation in Yerevan, such a step may even serve as a basis for establishing cooperation between the governing parties and the opposition.
What consequences do you foresee should the Armenian parliament move on this issue?
Bryza: I think any move that prejudges the outcome of the negotiations that are underway and that are achieving some real results in terms of moving closer to finalizing the basic principles would be unhelpful.
And we looked at the UN GA resolution of Azerbaijan in that very light: that it was a one-sided resolution that did not reflect the fair and balanced nature of the proposal on the table.
Similarly, if the Armenian side were to move unilaterally and prejudge the outcome of the negotiations by recognizing Nagorno Karabakh, that would be something that is very seriously undermining the peace process.
I think that would be a highly asymmetric response [to Azerbaijan’s move at the UN GA] and potentially a highly destabilizing move. [It would mean] to decide that this is the end of the negotiating process and we have unilaterally declared that the conflict is resolved in this way.
I do not know how that would leave space for the continuation of negotiations. We need to maintain the give and take that aims to achieve this fair and balanced compromise which is absolutely within reach right now and requires a little bit more work to reach a compromise.
U.S. aid to Armenia won’t be affected if positive trends continue
Reporter: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told members of Congress in a March 12 hearing that the state of emergency in Armenia had “made it necessary to suspend” some of U.S. assistance programs. Which programs was Dr. Rice referring to?
Bryza: What I thought the secretary said is that we are looking into suspending or beginning to implement limitations to some of our programs.
One thing that you saw was that letter that came from [Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO] Ambassador John Danilovich that talked about the need to reconsider the MCC program in the current circumstances. We were also in the process of possibly limiting certain other flows of assistance money if the state of emergency was not lifted and if the freedoms in Armenia were not restored.
But it sounds as perhaps those positive steps have been taken [in terms of the lifting of the state of emergency] and since the positive steps have been taken then there is no need for us to take negative steps on our side.
I hope very much that lifting of the state of emergency moves tensions in Armenia to a new phase, in which freedoms and democratic momentum in Armenia are restored and we get back on track with all of the items on our important agenda.
Reporter: Are there clear guidelines on what could cause MCC suspension or termination? The MCC letter spoke of “policy reversals” and you mention “momentum,” but outside of the lifting of the state of emergency, which has now happened, what specific steps can provide for such a momentum?
And what are, as Turks like to put it, the “red lines”?
Bryza: I would rather not speculate about a specific “red line,”
because MCC has a much broader scope [to determine eligibility for aid]. The MCC is a program that President George W. Bush has developed, and he is very proud of it. It aims to provide assistance in response to performance and reform.
If the impression in Washington is that a country has wandered far away from democratic reforms, then by definition there needs to be some ratcheting back of the MCC program. That is the phase we have been in: trying to assess how much backtracking there may have been in Armenia.
So, there is no specific red line, but a subjective judgment that one has to make on whether or not there has been a large amount of backtracking. And I would rather not get into a speculative discussion about what might be too much, because I hope we have moved out of that whole set of problems.
It seems that perhaps right now we are seeing the restoration of all the freedoms and now that question of suspending assistance could become moot, I hope. But it all depends on how fully the freedoms are restored.
Reporter: Following your visit to Armenia on March 6–7 and interview with The Associated Press, where you appeared to say that the government actions on March 1 were too harsh, there seemed to be a bit of back and forth, including what sounded like an annoyed reaction from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tigran Balayan. Have those matters been resolved or is there still an argument going on?
Bryza: Well, the Foreign Ministry spokesman made his remarks and you did not hear any retort or rejoinder from me so I do not think there is any argument at all. And I do think I need to follow-up on that at all. I think that we are looking forward and hoping to see all of the freedoms restored and then we do not have to worry.
Reporter: While you were in Armenia, the government press office publicized a couple of your remarks where you praised the leadership of Prime Minister Sargsian. Certainly Mr. Sargsian had sounded open to dialogue both before and after the March 1 events, although with the caveat that people with whom he engages in dialogue recognize his election victory. In your own words, what is your assessment of the now president-elect Sargsian and his role in this crisis?
Bryza: Prime Minister Sargsian is preparing for his inauguration and to make sure that he gets off on the right foot he seems to believe that it is important to restore media freedoms and freedom of assembly that were restricted under the state of emergency. And if he thought differently, he would not
be involved in lifting those restrictions – so that is positive and a very good sign.
I have found Mr. Sargsian to be a constructive partner diplomatically and in security matters who has a clear vision of where he wants Armenia to evolve, in terms of having complementary relations both with Russia and the Euro-Atlantic community. [Mr. Sargsian has been] open-minded in terms of listening and analyzing and synthesizing ideas and trying to come up with a way forward that is in a mutual benefit of both of our countries.
And that is all really good.
In terms of the events that just transpired – all I can say is that they were a tragedy for all of the Armenian people and the important thing is to make sure that
these tragic events do not end up slowing down the evolution of the Armenian democracy and do not end up somehow undercutting shared values that are at the core of the U.S.-Armenian relationship.
Again, the momentum is being restored and we will see where things go from here.
Reporter: There seems to be a fine line that the government needs to follow in terms of its pledge to prosecute people behind the violent postelection unrest in Yerevan and working toward reconciliation.
What is your sense on how such a balance can be struck?
Bryza: In general, what we would like to see is restoration of the confidence of all of the Armenian voters in their government, as well as the restoration of the positive progress in U.S.-Armenia relations.
Of course it is very important that all those who committed violence unlawfully, whether they are in opposition or in the government, be prosecuted. Anybody who violated the election laws, either in the campaign period, or the voting, or the tabulation of votes also should be investigated and prosecuted.
It is important that journalists have the right to speak freely, but also it is important that the journalists maintain professional and ethical standards. A cooperative evolution needs to take place between journalists and the government, as well as opposition leaders, to make sure they focus on things that really matter to Armenia, which is building democratic institutions.
Peaceful and lawful demonstrations are an important part of any democracy. But again, I stress, peaceful and lawful, so there is mutual responsibility.
That said, in our Euro-Atlantic world, whether it is fair or unfair – it is just the way our culture is structured both Europe and U.S. – when serious violence ensues
between the government and the population, we often blame the government first.
In Washington, D.C., for example, if there is a clash between the protestors and the police, the police are going to be blamed for brutality even if they were provoked. And that is what happened in Armenia as well. Perhaps some in Armenia may think this is unfair, but that is just a reality that the governments are seen bearing primary responsibility when violence ensues.
Reporter: When you met with ex-President Levon Ter-Petrossian, what was your message to him? In your assessment, is he ready for a constructive dialogue to help bring the country back to normalcy?
Bryza: I hope so. I would rather not divulge the specifics of the private discussions that I had, but when you talk to Mr. Ter-Petrossian you hear a very calm and seemingly a very reasonable approach.
I can only say that [I hope that] as he exercises his democratic rights of the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, he would do so in a way that strengthens Armenia’s democratic institutions.
I have no way to predict in which way he is going to behave. I can just express my hope.
Reporter: It has been two weeks since the Constitutional Court turned down Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s challenge, letting the election results stand. The state of emergency has also now been lifted. How is the decision taken for President Bush to send a letter to the president-elect, in this case Mr. Sargsian, and when? Are the elections over, as far as you are concerned?
Bryza: It is a decision that the President of the United States has to make as to when he offers his recognition or congratulations to any foreign leader on an election.
I would presume that in a situation of the state of emergency it is quite difficult for any U.S. president to reach out and congratulate.
I hope that we are seeing today that Armenia is moving into a new phase when freedoms are restored.
And I presume that our president will have a different set of facts in his mind as he considers when and how to acknowledge and congratulate Prime Minister Sargsian on this last election.