Friday, November 21, 2008

Congrats to Obama, U.S. policy

First published in November 8, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Regional leaders offer courtesies to President-elect Obama

Following the election of Barack Obama as president on November 4, foreign leaders communicated their desire to strengthen their respective countries' relations with the United States.

In congratulatory messages, President of Armenia Serge Sargsian and President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Bako Sahakian spoke of a "new quality" in relations and "epochal changes" in world politics that they expect the Obama presidency to bring about.

In his message, Mr. Sargsian underscored the importance of the Armenian-American community, which "repeatedly conveyed" to Armenia's president "their enthusiasm for the changes" Mr. Obama has promised the American people.

Both Armenian presidents stressed the role the United States is playing as a supporter of Armenia and a mediator in the Karabakh peace process.

Also noting the mediating role of the United States was Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who in his message appeared to hold out hope that the United States would help Azerbaijan to "put an end to Armenia's aggression and liberate our occupied territories." Mr. Aliyev also underscored a "strategic partnership" between two countries based on Azerbaijan's oil sales to the United States.

Both Azerbaijani and Turkish commentators expressed concerns about Mr. Obama's pledge to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide. Speaking in reference to the issue, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed "hope that some theses raised during the election campaign will stay there," in the past, as campaign issues; he also noted the "strategic nature" of bilateral ties, Turkish media reported.

From Georgia, one of the few countries in the world where the public was more sympathetic to Sen. John McCain's foreign policy approach, leader Mikheil Saakashvili also highlighted positive expectations from President-elect Obama.

In televised remarks reported by, Mr. Saakashvili cited Mr. Obama's supportive comments and the role played by Vice President-elect Joe Biden in securing the pledge of $1 billion in U.S. assistance to Georgia following the August war with Russia.

A congratulatory telegram from Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev had perhaps the most reserved tone. In a message posted to, Mr. Medvedev said he "counts on a constructive dialogue [with President Obama] based on trust and consideration of each other's interests" in order to promote bilateral cooperation "for the cause of international peace and security."

U.S. diplomats, Armenian commentators disagree on trends in U.S. Caucasus policy

Although Barack Obama ran with the slogan "The change we need," American diplomats posted in the Caucasus say they do not expect U.S.' regional priorities to change.

The Democratic candidate renewed his pledge on the Armenian Genocide and stronger relations with Armenia in a statement released on the eve of the election.

Nevertheless, the Regnum news agency cited a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan, Terry Davidson, telling Azerbaijanis "not to fear" Mr. Obama's pledges to speak clearly on the Armenian Genocide, and promising continuity in U.S. regional policy.

But Ruben Safrastian, a Yerevan-based Turkey expert, cautioned against expectations that the United States could influence Armenian-Turkish relations. He said, "Turkey's approach toward Armenia can only change through a fundamental reassessment of the priorities of the Turkish elite, which needs considerable time to play out."

At the same time, Mr. Safrastian remained hopeful that changes in U.S. policy under the new president would occur. In particular, U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide will now be "more realistic" and would contribute to strengthening of U.S.-Armenia relations, he said.

Vahan Hovhannesian, a National Assembly member from the ARF, similarly suggested that the election result provides Armenian-American organizations with "new serious opportunities for promoting Armenian interests."

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