Monday, February 2, 2009

Bush goodbye, DC ratings and U.S.-Georgia charter

This was first published in January 17, 2009 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Bush thanks Armenia for Iraq war role

U.S. President George W. Bush thanks Iraq coalition countries in a speech at U.S. Central Command headquarters, May 1, 2007. The Armenian flag is next to the U.S.flag. White House photo

President George W. Bush expressed the "deep gratitude of the United States" for Armenia's contribution to the U.S.-led Iraq coalition in a letter released by the office of Armenia's President Serge Sargsian on January 13.

The letter noted "particular appreciation for the transportation and convoy security, de-mining, and medical support" that the 46-person Armenian peacekeeping unit provided.

Armenia did not support the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003, but soon after, the Armenian government agreed to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq with a peacekeeping unit. The deployment went ahead despite concerns that the Iraqi-Armenian community, numbering tens of thousands, could be targeted as a result.

In the period of deployment from early 2005 until late 2008, several hundred Armenian military men served in Iraq, with one officer seriously wounded in action.

Mr. Bush's letter said also that "the United States looks forward to pursuing further cooperation with Armenia on other common interests within the South Caucasus region and around the world."

The letter was the second known communication from President Bush to President Sargsian since the Armenian president's election in February. Last September, while presenting her credentials to Mr. Sargsian, U.S. ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch transmitted President Bush's message of congratulations on Armenia's Independence Day.

President Bush spent the last weeks of his presidency defending his record amid the worsening global economic crisis and continuing U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also thanked foreign leaders who were his closest allies and otherwise assisted U.S. efforts worldwide.

On January 14, President Bush awarded the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to former British prime minister Tony Blair, the former Australian prime minister, and the president of Colombia.

Ratings: Armenia remains economically liberal, “partly free” politically

Two Washington think tanks this week issued annual reports comparing the countries of the world. Armenia's ranking in both reports counts toward its continued eligibility for U.S. Millennium Challenge grants.

The "Economic Freedom Index" jointly prepared by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation noted improvements in Armenia in the categories of freedom from corruption, government size, business, trade and fiscal freedom; it reported a deterioration in the monetary and labor categories. Overall, Armenia received the same score it had last year and was ranked 31st in the world, once again placing ahead of its neighborhood and many European Union countries.

Among others in the Index, Georgia was 32nd, Israel 42nd, Latvia 45th, France 64th, Turkey 75th, Azerbaijan 91st, Russia 146th, and Iran 168th. Once again, the list was topped by Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States.

The "Freedom in the World" ranking put together by Freedom House, released on January 12, reported a global "retreat" for freedom for a third consecutive year.

In Armenia the report noted a decline in political freedoms "because of obstacles placed in the way of the political opposition during the presidential election, as well as the use of violence to disperse opposition protesters and the incarceration of over 100 people after the voting."

Setbacks were also recorded in Georgia, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan, which, like Armenia, were ranked "partly free." Ukraine was the only former Soviet republic described as free, while all others, including Russia and Azerbaijan, were rated "not free."

In addition, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic retained its "partly free" rating, while Abkhazia and South Ossetia - now bound by security treaties to Russia - were both ranked as "not free."

U.S. pledges support for Georgia “to defeat threats”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze of Georgia signing a Strategic Partnership Charter on January 9. Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and recently appointed Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze of Georgia signed a Strategic Partnership Charter on January 9 outlining a mutual interest in bilateral cooperation on military, political, economic, and humanitarian issues.

The document points to a "vital" U.S. interest "in a strong, independent, sovereign, unified, and democratic Georgia, capable of responsible self-defense" and promises "to expand the scope of [U.S.-Georgia] defense and security and cooperation programs to defeat threats" that Georgia faces. The charter also refers to Georgia's function as conduit for Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

Last month, the United States signed a similar charter with Ukraine. Earlier in 2008, the United States lobbied for both Ukraine and Georgia to formally begin the process of joining the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

The Bush administration moved to sign charters with both countries on a bilateral basis after European allies declined to support NATO arrangements they see as unnecessarily irritating to Russia.

Discussing the charter in Tbilisi on January 12, Mr. Vashadze described it as "yet another nail in the coffin, which will bury Russia's goals," reported. According to the Georgian foreign minister these goals include turning Georgia into a source of "instability" and "lawlessness."

There has been little Russian reaction to the signing. The official ITAR-TASS news agency cited an anonymous Russian Foreign Ministry source that dismissed the charter as a "legally non-binding . . . collection of propagandistic clich├ęs."

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