Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obama on Russia; Turkey to Obama; Georgia politics

First published in the December 13, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama promises to “reset” relations with Russia

Then Sen. Obama along with Sen. Lugar on visit to Russia in 2005.

President-elect Barack Obama said he was determining when to meet Russian leaders and said there was a need to “reset U.S.-Russia relations” following tensions earlier this year.

In comments to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on December 7, Mr. Obama said, “we want to cooperate with [Russia] where we can.” But he also charged that Russia was “acting in ways that are contrary to international norms” and should stop “bullying” U.S.-backed Georgia.

In an interview on December 4, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also sounded conciliatory, noting “positive signals” from Mr. Obama’s team.

“We hear that one should build relations with Russia, taking into account its interests,” Mr. Putin was quoted as saying by Reuters. He was apparently referring to the president-elect’s promises to review Bush administration support for missile defense in Europe and NATO’s continued eastward expansion – two policies that have especially aggravated Russia.

“If these are not just words, if they get transformed into a practical policy, then of course our reaction will be appropriate and our American partners will feel this at once,” said Mr. Putin.

Turkey prepares ground for U.S. ties under new administration

Turkish officials and commentators have been actively reminding Washington of their country’s importance to the United States, ahead of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

In recent weeks, in addition to visits by senior Turkish officials, Washington-based pundits held a number of public events that highlighted Turkey’s priorities in relations with the United States and Europe.

Opinion pieces on U.S.- Turkish relations appeared in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and Christian Science Monitor. A Turkish lobby group presented awards to three members of congress.

The longstanding effort to prevent a change in the administration’s position on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide – something that Mr. Obama promised repeatedly to bring about – is among top Turkish priorities.

According to media reports, Turkish President Abdullah Gül will again seek to recruit Jewish-American opposition to an Armenian Genocide resolution during a visit to Israel early next year.

Finally, according to Chicago Tribune, Mr. Obama may be considering Turkey as the site for a major address within his first 100 days in office that would focus on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In Georgia, calls for early elections, another reshuffle, and efforts to mend ties with Russia

Georgian Catholicos Ilia II visits Russian-occupied Gori in August 2008. Interpressnews photo

Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili replaced more ministers and faced new potential challengers to his power amid a gloomy economic outlook, reported this week and last.

Permanent Representative to the United Nations Irakly Alasania resigned his job and prepared to lead a newly established alliance of two opposition parties. Former parliament speaker (2001 –2008) Nino Burjanadze and former prime minister (2005–2007) Zurab Noghaideli have also joined the opposition to Mr. Saakashvili in recent months.

According to an opinion poll published by a Georgia newspaper Ms. Burjanadze and Mr. Alasania are the most popular picks for next Georgian president, although neither had commanding support.

The Georgian opposition has been divided on antigovernment tactics. While most have called on Mr. Saakashvili to resign, some parties think elections to parliament should be held before the presidential ones. The current parliament elected last May is dominated by president’s loyalists.

Mr. Saakashvili responded with new reshuffles, bringing in officials untainted by the August war to take cabinet posts and urged them to focus on shoring up the economy.

Last week, Prime Minister Grigol Mgaloblishvili put the Georgian ambassadors to the United States and Israel in charge of the defense and economics ministries, respectively. (Mr. Mgaloblishvili himself was Ambassador to Turkey until becoming prime minister last month.)

Mr. Alasania was reportedly offered a cabinet position as well, but declined.

In another development, Ghia Nodia, a political scientist and veteran member of the Western analytical circuit, left the post of education minister after an 11-month stint.

And in what may be seen as a gesture toward Russia, Grigol Vashadze, a Soviet-trained diplomat and Russian citizen, became foreign minister.

Reaching out to Russian leaders was Georgia’s Catholicos Ilia II who attended the funeral of the fellow Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II of Russia and met with President Dmitry Medvedev on December 9.

Speaking at a meeting with a Georgian community in Moscow, Ilia II said in remarks aired by Georgian television and reported by Georgia and Russia “are brothers, we are friends, we are of the same faith [Orthodox Christians] and we should be closer to each other.”

In early November, a Russian deputy foreign minister received a Georgian church delegation accompanied by Georgia’s ambassador to Russia under former President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Following the war in Ossetia, Russian leaders have called Mr. Saakashvili a “political corpse” and refused any contacts with him.

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