Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pallone on U.S. support for NKR; Erdogan on Bush & Obama; Vatican on Armenian Genocide; EU's new FSU plan; Caucasus on NATO ties

First published in November 29, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Rep. Pallone: U.S. should step up support for Karabakh

"It is necessary that the United States place an importance on the existence of the smaller states in the Caucasus," Rep. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) said in a statement released following his meeting with president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Bako Sahakian, on November 22 in New York.

"The United States must not ignore the unique cultural identities of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh," the co-chair of the Congressional Armenian caucus went to say. "As a country founded on self-determination, we must champion the rights of people everywhere to self-determination."

While welcoming the November 2 Moscow declaration on Karabakh signed by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Mr. Pallone also called for more "robust" U.S. role in the peace process under the incoming administration of Barack Obama.

Speaking on November 23 in Los Angeles, Mr. Sahakian welcomed President-elect Obama's "readiness to help meet the challenges faced by the Armenian nation." Karabakh's president is in the United States for the annual fundraising effort organized by the Armenia Fund in Los Angeles.

Turning to specific priorities for next year, Mr. Pallone said that as this year he will "urge a shift in U.S. aid to Nagorno-Karabakh from humanitarian to developmental programs [to] help rebuild Nagorno Karabakh's infrastructure [and] secure the health and safety of [its] people."

Turkish leader derides Bush, lobbies Obama

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan used an invitation from President George W. Bush to an economic summit in Washington to lecture President-elect Barack Obama and to lambast the Bush administration's policies as "disastrous."

Although Mr. Obama himself declined to take part in the summit, he asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Rep. Jim Leach (R.-Iowa), and Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution to meet with foreign leaders on his behalf.

According to Turkish media, in meetings with Mr. Obama's representatives and in speeches at Brookings on November 14 and a day earlier at the Columbia University, Mr. Erdogan touted Turkey's importance and warned President-elect Obama about Turkey's "sensitivities" such as its insistence on denial of the Armenian Genocide and opposition to a de facto Kurdish state in Iraq.

In his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama repeatedly pledged to drop the Bush administration's policy and stop deferring to the Turkish lobby when it came to U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide.

Separately, Mr. Obama pledged to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq within sixteen months.

Mr. Erdogan criticized the withdrawal plan as "premature" and the recognition pledge as "immature."

At Brookings, the Turkish leader claimed that "U.S. support is essential for maintaining the dialogue" between Turkey and Armenia, implying that Ankara would stop seeking normal relations with Yerevan if President Obama, in Mr. Erdogan's words at Columbia, acquiesced to Armenian-Americans' "cheap political lobbying" and speak clearly on the genocide in Ottoman Turkey.

Also at Columbia, Mr. Erdogan spoke of his desire to follow the recent Russian example and host a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents.

And in Washington, Mr. Erdogan repeated his offer to mediate between the United States and Iran, while suggesting that Tehran cannot be forced to drop its nuclear program while other countries (presumably Israel, India, and Pakistan in addition to the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China) retain nuclear weapons.

Vatican: Memories of Armenian Genocide need to be overcome

"The Holy See's official position was expressed in Pope John Paul II visit in Armenia [where he] spoke about genocide," Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Vatican's voice on interfaith relations told Vatican Radio on November 22 (audio of the program is available at

Cardinal Kasper was asked about the issue on eve of a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia who visited the Vatican from November 23 to 27.

In Armenia, "we visited the memorial of victims of what is called genocide, even though the Turkish [government] does not recognize this term. Normally it is called in this way," the cardinal recalled.

"In any case, the problem is not the term. It is a fact that thousands of Armenians were killed and starved and the terrible memories are there and we must help overcome these memories and also to improve if possible the relations between Armenia and Turkey, which are neighboring states but which have no relations with each other. And I don't know if the Holy See can do anything in this regard but of course we are always with the victims and not with those who did the bad things."

During his November 2006 trip to Turkey, Benedict XVI referred to "tragic circumstances [Armenians] endured in the last century," according to a report by

According to the Catholic News Service, in meeting with the Armenian delegation on November 24, Pope Benedict XVI also referred to Armenians' "unspeakable suffering."

In turn, Aram I said it was essential that the Armenian Genocide is explicitly acknowledged to help prevent new genocides "by affirming the rights of all people to dignity, a dignified life, freedom, and self-determination."

The Holy See last May hosted Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, who at the time appealed "to all nations and lands to universally condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history," saying that "denial of these crimes is an injustice that equals the commission of the same."

In the meeting this week, Benedict XVI also noted "the escalation of persecution and violence against Christians in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere," apparently referring to attacks on Christians, including the Armenian community, in the U.S.-occupied Iraq.

"Only when the countries involved can determine their own destiny, and the various ethnic groups and religious communities accept and respect each other fully, will peace be built on the solid foundations of solidarity, justice and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples," the pope said.

European Union weighing ties with Russia, ex-Soviet republics

"In recognition of European aspirations" of Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the European Commission is set to propose a new Eastern Partnership project to encompass the six republics in June 2009, reported on November 24.

The EU Commission's draft communication seen by EU Observer describes relations between the European Union and Russia would take priority over the proposed new project.

At the same time, in an implicit swipe at Russia, the document notes that "the conflict in Georgia in August 2008 and its broader repercussions have resulted in increased awareness of the vulnerability of Eastern partners.... There is a sense of urgency among member states as to the need to enhance relations with our Eastern neighbors to support them in drawing closer to the EU."

Until now, EU engaged the six countries through its European Neighborhood initiative, which also involves the countries of the Levant and North Africa.

The new initiative, first floated by Poland and Sweden last May, is meant to send "a clear and lasting political message of EU solidarity" and to "produce benefits perceived and recognized by citizens of the partner countries."

Among them would be increased European aid to the six ex-Soviet countries, easing of visas for travel, and "a single deep and comprehensive Free Trade Area, providing the basis for the development of a common internal market, such as the European Economic Area [EEA]," such as EU now enjoys with Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

But to qualify, the six states would be required to "take over [the entire EU legal code], including the acceptance of European Court of Justice rulings."

Caucasus countries clarify NATO policies

NATO foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on December 2-3 to find face-saving solutions that would help postpone immediate membership action plans (MAPs) for Ukraine and Georgia, news agencies report. Both countries were promised eventual membership at the NATO summit last April.

"At the moment [NATO membership] is not on Armenia's agenda," President Serge Sargsian told Euronews TV during his trip to European Union and NATO headquarters in Brussels in early November, reiterating a longstanding policy.

At the same time Mr. Sargsian added that Armenia wants to continue to partner with NATO, calling such cooperation "integral to [Armenia's] real security."

And in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on November 11, Mr. Sargsian disagreed with the view that one of the lessons of the war in Georgia is that NATO should no longer be in the Caucasus. At the same time he noted that Armenia does not want to become an alliance member and is against "dangerous dividing lines" being drawn in the Caucasus.

In Baku, spokesperson for President Ilham Aliyev said on November 20 that Azerbaijan has no plans to enter NATO, Mediamax news agency reported.

"The talks concerning this issue do not reflect reality," said Elnur Aslanov. And in what may be the most belated correction in history, he added that the "statements about placing of NATO military bases in the territory of Azerbaijan," initiated in 1999 by Vafa Gulizade, senior aide to then-President Heydar Aliyev, "are also groundless."

For years, Azerbaijani officials have been more ambivalent about country's NATO aspirations.

Meanwhile, Georgia remains committed to NATO membership and "the decision, made in Bucharest, according to which Georgia will become a member of the Alliance, is still in effect", Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said last week.

But speaking to Reuters on November 25, Ms. Tkeshelashvili appeared to concede that no action plan that could put a timeframe on future membership was forthcoming.

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