Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Armenia and U.S. appointments, Obama foreign travel, Manas base closure, Iranian sputnik

First published in February 7, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

New appointments: Karabakh Representative to U.S., Armenia’s consul in LA

Robert Avetisyan has been appointed the representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in the United States, taking over from Vardan Barseghian, the press service of the president of the republic reported this week.

Mr. Barseghian, who served in the United States since 1999, has returned to Stepanakert to become Karabakh's deputy foreign minister. Mr. Avetisyan has been counselor at NKR's Office in the United States since the beginning of 2008. From 1999 on, Mr. Avetisyan has worked for the Foreign Ministry in Stepanakert.

Sources familiar with the rotation told the Armenian Reporter last week that Grigor Hovhannisyan will replace Armen Liloyan as Armenia's consul general in Los Angeles. Since 2006, Mr. Hovhannisyan has been executive director of the Shushi Revival Fund, chaired by the mayor of Yerevan.

Power, McFaul to join Obama White House

Samantha Power, a Harvard professor and a strong supporter of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, will serve as senior director for multilateral affairs in President Barack Obama's National Security Council, The Associated Press reported on January 29.

Ms. Power, 38, was a senior advisor to the Obama campaign and member of the president-elect's transition team. In her new capacity she will work on U.S. policy initiatives in international organizations on transnational issues such as human rights. Ms. Power was a recipient of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)'s Freedom Award last September.

Stanford professor and Russia expert Michael McFaul has been appointed senior director for Russia (and presumably other former Soviet republics) in the National Security Council, the National Interest online reported on February 4.

In congressional testimony last September, Mr. McFaul, 44, urged a policy of "re-building" democracy in Russia. Prior to the Russian-Georgian war, Mr. McFaul told Russia Today TV that Ukraine's and Georgia's membership in NATO was "inevitable," even though it could take decades.

Obama administration announces foreign travel plans

Heeding a longstanding tradition, Barack Obama will make his first foreign trip as president to Canada, on February 19, a month after inauguration, spokesperson Robert Gibbs said last week. Other countries he is expected to visit in the first two to three months of his presidency are Mexico, the United Kingdom (for the April summit on the financial crisis) and a yet-to-be-determined Muslim country.

But Mr. Obama's immediate priorities are said to be domestic.

Vice President Joe Biden is set to play a prominent role on foreign policy matters in the meantime. He will be in Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference, February 6-8, focusing on Russia, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden is expected to deliver a keynote address outlining the new administration's foreign policy priorities. He may also use the opportunity to talk with Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as well as the president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and other foreign leaders. Iran will be represented by Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.

According to an Armenian Reporter source, Armenia's President Serge Sargsian will also attend the Munich conference, while Azerbaijan and Georgia are sending foreign ministers.

It is so far unclear to which country Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit first, but with other top officials crowding Europe and the Middle East, media reports suggest a trip to East Asia.

U.S. squeezed by Russia in Central Asia, by Iran in space

Russia offered massive financial incentives to Kyrgyzstan, apparently on the condition that its government close a U.S. air base on its territory, news agencies reported. The base, which takes up a portion of the Kyrgyz capital's main airport, has been there since December 2001, serving to facilitate the delivery of supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure of the base during a visit to Moscow this week. Concurrently, Russia announced a $2 billion aid and loans package to the country.

Senior U.S. officials were apparently assured as recently as two weeks ago that the base would stay open, and are still hoping to use the facility for the anticipated "surge" in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

At the same time Russian and Kyrgyz leaders promised to continue to cooperate with the United States on stabilizing Afghanistan, which has seen an increase in insurgent attacks in the last few years.

Meanwhile, Iran marked the 30th anniversary of its Islamic revolution by launching its first domestically built satellite into space. U.S. officials expressed concern over the launch, since the same technology can also be used to deliver missiles.

According to RFE/RL, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran's growing presence in space is aimed at "expanding monotheism, peace, and justice." Iran has previously launched its satellites through the Russian and Chinese space programs.

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