Sunday, December 21, 2008

Team Obama takes shape

First published in December 6, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Obama administration’s national security team takes shape
by Emil Sanamyan

Hillary Clinton with Barack Obama.

Washington, - President-elect Barack Obama will appoint his main Democratic primary election opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York as secretary of state; keep the serving Bush administration Defense Secretary Robert Gates; and nominate retired Gen. James Jones as national security advisor.

Mr. Obama made these plans public on December 1, seven weeks before he is set to be inaugurated as president of the United States.

Asked to comment about the choices in terms of Armenian concerns, Ross Vartian, executive director of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC), said it will be up to President Obama to make key decisions and for the officials he appoints to implement them.

"Going forward, we will have a president who has repeatedly and clearly pledged to affirm the Armenian Genocide, achieve a Karabakh peace settlement based on the principle of self-determination, and expand U.S. relations with Armenia," Mr. Vartian told the Armenian Reporter.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who serves as chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, also has a strong Senate record on the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.

Sen. Clinton as secretary of state

Armenian-American organizations, including the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America, welcomed Sen. Clinton's selection, citing her record in the Senate and pledges while a candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, anonymous Turkish officials have reportedly also welcomed the president-elect's choice. According to the newspaper, Mrs. Clinton is seen in Turkey "as an experienced and centrist figure with a positive understanding of Turkey."

As a senator, Mrs. Clinton supported congressional measures to affirm the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide and signed letters to President George W. Bush urging him to do the same.

A statement issued by Mrs. Clinton's election campaign on January 24, 2008, said, "I believe the horrible events perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians constitute a clear case of genocide." She pledged to "recognize the Armenian Genocide" if elected president.

In that statement, Mrs. Clinton also promised "to expand and improve U.S.-Armenia relations," including an increase in U.S. aid "to Armenia and the people of Nagorno Karabagh," as well as helping reach a "fair and democratic resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict."

Sec. Gates as secretary of defense

President-elect Obama has also asked Defense Secretary Gates to stay in office for at least another year. Mr. Gates was appointed by President Bush following the November 2006 midterm congressional elections, replacing the controversial Donald Rumsfeld.

Last year, Mr. Gates participated in the Bush administration's lobbying effort in opposition to the House of Representatives' resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

In March 2007 Defense Secretary Gates co-signed a letter with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) arguing that passage of the House resolution would "significantly endanger U.S. national security interests."

And in October of last year, Mr. Gates told a Pentagon news conference that a resolution, if passed, would damage U.S.-Turkey relations "perhaps beyond repair" and "do real harm" to U.S. troops in Iraq, The Associated Press reported at the time.

In the same period, Mr. Gates spoke shortly after his meeting with Serge Sargsian, who was Armenia's prime minister at the time; both officials said after the meeting that they did not discuss the resolution. (Armenian officials have historically refused to weigh in on congressional debates, although they have broadly welcomed international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.)

In those comments, Mr. Gates also said that he "worked [the Armenian Genocide] issue" while deputy national security advisor to President George H. W. Bush in 1990, when a Senate resolution was championed by then-Minority leader Robert Dole (R.-Kan.)

Gen. Jones as national security advisor

Retired Marine Corps General James Jones will serve as the incoming president's chief aide on national security matters. As national security advisor, Gen. Jones will coordinate the work of various agencies such as the State Department and the Pentagon.

Like President-elect Obama, Gen. Jones spent much of his childhood abroad, in his case in France. But graduating from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1966, Mr. Jones switched to a military career and service in the Vietnam War.

Gen. Jones last served as commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 2003 to 2006. In that capacity he worked with other NATO governments and militaries, including those of Turkey and NATO partner states in the Caucasus.

In a June 2003 interview with Armenia's Mediamax news agency, Gen. Jones highlighted the importance of Armenia's hosting of the Cooperative Best Effort exercises in the NATO Partnership for Peace framework.

And in September 2004, Gen. Jones canceled a similar exercise in Azerbaijan after its government barred Armenian officers from attending.

In his March 2005 testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee, Gen. Jones spoke of Armenia's region as "increasingly important to [U.S.] interests." Calling Armenia's region a "pivot point" for the states of Central Asia and Middle East, he highlighted the importance of Caspian energy resources and the Caucasus serving as a transit point for air-delivered supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Samantha Power is back

Samantha Power (on right) during a presentation of Carla Garapedian's (on left) Armenian Genocide documentary at Harvard in 2007. Harvard News Office

Washington, - Harvard University professor Samantha Power, who resigned last March from the Obama campaign after calling his then-rival Sen. Clinton "a monster," is now back working for President-elect Obama's transition team.

A close Obama advisor, Ms. Power has been a strong supporter of Armenian Genocide affirmation. In a video address released by the ANCA last January, she encouraged Armenian-Americans to support Mr. Obama as someone who has a "willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and conventional Washington," and when it came to the Armenian Genocide "call a ‘spade a spade'; and to speak the truth about it."

According to, cited by Politico on November 28, Ms. Power is part of the President-elect's team now studying State Department personnel, operations, and policy, and working to "ensure that senior appointees have the information necessary to complete the confirmation process, lead their departments, and begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in."

It is unclear what, if any, formal position Ms. Power may be offered in the Obama administration.

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