Friday, September 26, 2008

Briefly: Biden on Armenia & Georgia, Caucasians in Denver, Georgians ask for $1-2bn, Azeris in California

First published in August 30, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Sen. Obama’s running mate pick strong on Armenian issues

Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) chose Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his running mate last week, and the Democratic National Convention in Denver confirmed him as the party’s vice presidential nominee.

The selection was welcomed by Armenian-American organizations since Mr. Biden has a long track record of supporting Armenian-American concerns throughout his more than 35 years in the Senate.

That record includes support for U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, including the Senate resolution championed by the Senate Republican Party leader Bob Dole in 1990, supporting all Armenian Genocide resolutions introduced in the Senate since, and pushing for a change in the Bush Administration policy as part of the confirmation process for the U.S. ambassador to Armenia since 2006 and until earlier this summer.

During the July 29 Foreign Relations Committee meeting that confirmed Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Mr. Biden noted, “Recognition by the United States of the Armenian Genocide is not the final goal. The real goal is the recognition of Turkey – of the Turkish Government – of the Armenian Genocide and the establishment of a common Turkish-Armenian understanding of the events and tragedy that took place.”

Mr. Biden also supported Karabakh’s right to self-determination and the 1993 U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan over its aggression against Armenia and Karabakh.

He introduced the 2007 resolution honoring the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink assassinated by Turkish nationalists.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama himself issued a statement in which he promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide as president and support a Karabakh settlement “that is agreeable to all parties, and based upon America’s founding commitment to the principles of democracy and self determination.”

The Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain (R.- Ariz.) has promised no changes in U.S. policies on Armenian issues; he has also yet to select a running mate.

Last year, Mr. Biden also advocated for a robust U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, and was willing to “commit U.S. troops on the ground.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Biden supports U.S. leadership in Armenia’s region and checking Russia’s influence there. In a joint letter with his committee colleague Sen. Dick Lugar (R.-Ind.) last October, Sen. Biden argued that the United States has a “long-term interest in preventing Russian domination of energy [development and transportation] in the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia.”

Other senior foreign policy advisors to Mr. Obama include President Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, 80, a strong advocate of containing Russia, as well as the Clinton Administration’s National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, 69, and former State Department policy planning director Gregory Craig, 63, both of whom are strong proponents of NATO expansion.

Politicians from Armenia, elsewhere in Denver for Democratic National Convention events

Some 500 foreign officials from about 100 countries were in Denver this week for the International Leaders’ Forum organized by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. NDI has organized the event during every convention since 1984 to provide a forum for foreign leaders and the Democratic Party’s foreign policy team.

According to the Armenian Reporter’s information, former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union and former national security service director David Shahnazarian, a political ally and in-law of ex-President Levon Ter-Petrossian, were expected to attend.

During the Democratic Party’s national convention held in July 2004 in Boston, Armenia was represented by Amb. Arman Kirakossian and Stepan Demirchian of the opposition People’s Party.

This year, Amb. Tatoul Markarian is in Yerevan for the annual gathering of Armenian diplomats and is unable to attend.

Azerbaijan was represented by the presidential administration’s propaganda director Ali Hassanov.

As in years past, perennial government opponents Isa Gamberov and Ali Kerimov were also invited, although it was unclear if either one was attending.

Also in attendance were Georgian Parliament Speaker David Bakradze and Minister for European Integration Georgi Baramidze, who actively lobbied for a tougher U.S. policy on Russia.

Other visitors from Georgia included former Parliament Speaker Nino Bourjanadze and leader of the opposition Republican Party David Usupashvili.

Georgia seeks “1 to 2 billion” dollars in foreign aid

The Georgian government is seeking $1 to $2 billion in aid to repair and develop infrastructure after the war with Russia, USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore said on August 22, reported citing Reuters news agency.

“Georgia has given us rather a long list of things they would like to see – communications is certainly part of it, hydro-electric dams... That’s really reconstruction, it’s for infrastructure. It’s not just because of hostilities. It’s for development,” Ms. Fore said, adding that “it does not all need to be done by the United States. It can be done by international organizations as well as other bilateral organizations.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on August 26, Senators Joe Lieberman (I.-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), who recently visited Georgia on behalf of presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain, supported U.S. provision of weapons to Georgia to be able to “deter” Russian forces.

The U.S. Congress is expected to approve a significant aid package to Georgia when it returns from holidays next month, said House of Representatives’ Foreign Relations Committee Chair Rep. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.) and Democratic Policy Committee chair Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) who also went to Georgia on August 22.

Georgia has received close to $2 billion in U.S. assistance in the decade and a half since independence.

Azerbaijani officials on propaganda tour of California

The California State Assembly hosted a group of four Azerbaijani officials earlier this month, one of the delegation members Azerbaijani Milli Majlis member Asim Mollazade told on August 21.

The group visited the two chambers of California’s legislature in Sacramento, Rep. Berman, who represents a Los Angeles–area district, the San Francisco City Council, and the local World Affairs Council.

Mr. Mollazade said he and his colleagues used the opportunity to talk up Azerbaijan’s importance to the world, threats posed by “imperial” Russia, as well as “true reasons” behind the conflict with Armenia.

He singled out the importance of raising the Azerbaijani flag in the California legislature as a significant event.

In September 2007 Azerbaijan hosted a California delegation that included State Senator Sheila Kuehl, State Assembly members Julia Brownley, Betty Karnette, and Lori Saldaña, as well as assistant director of the California State Senate international relations office Shannon Shellenberg.

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