Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Genocide resolution, Biden on Russia, Plouffe in Baku

This was first published in February 14, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Congressional support sought for Genocide resolution as opposition readies

In a message to fellow members of Congress, Reps. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) are urging them "to re-affirm the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide by cosponsoring a bipartisan resolution" on the subject, according to a February 10 electronic letter made available to the Armenian Reporter.

The letter seeks co-sponsors for the resolution prior to its formal introduction and congressional consideration. In January 2007, when a similar resolution was introduced, it had 160 original co-sponsors.

That resolution gained the support of a majority of House members (more than 218) before the resolution's approval by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2007. But the number of co-sponsors fell to about 200 after defections caused by lobbying by the Bush administration on behalf of the Turkish government.

The administration of President Barack Obama has not yet taken a formal position on the issue. While members of the Senate and throughout the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were supporters of affirmation.

Last week, two members of the Turkish parliament from the ruling party, Suat Kiniklioglu and Cuneyt Yuksel, were in the United States to lobby against the resolution. According to the Jamestown Foundation's translation, the two, having met U.S. officials and Jewish-American leaders, told Zaman newspaper that the "pro-Israel lobby will stay neutral if a genocide resolution is brought to the Congress; in case a resolution passed, Turkey should not hold Israel responsible as such a policy would make the Congress upset; and in order to prevent such genocide resolution, Turkey should open its Armenian border."

Mr. Kiniklioglu also told Azeri Press Agency (APA) on February 9, "if Mrs. Clinton opposes a draft resolution, the Armenian lobby will face with more difficulties to bring a new resolution to the Congress. I can say that Hillary Clinton has a key to this issue."

Meanwhile, Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan reportedly raised the issue with Vice President Biden when they met during the Munich Security Conference last weekend.

Biden: U.S. seeks cooperation with Russia while noting disagreements

Vice President Joe Biden was the star speaker at the Munich Security Conference, an annual event held last weekend. In his February 7 address, Mr. Biden recalled President Barack Obama's offer to "reset" relations with Russia in order to reverse the "dangerous drift" in relations and focus ties on cooperative subjects such as nuclear disarmament and non­proliferation.

Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was in attendance, reportedly welcomed what he termed a "strong signal" from the United States and a "very positive" meeting with Mr. Biden.

But in his address, Mr. Biden also referred to disagreements with Russia, promising not to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, former autonomous areas of Soviet Georgia now recognized as independent states by Russia.

This week the State Department expressed "regret" about Russia's plans to establish military bases in both places, urging Moscow "to respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

And in allusions to Russian dominance in the former Soviet space and Georgia's efforts to join NATO, the vice president said in Munich that the United States "will not recognize a sphere of influence" and will support countries' "own decisions [to] choose their own alliances."

While in Munich, Mr. Biden met with embattled Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili, who in recent months has kept a low international profile, said that Mr. Biden promised continued U.S. support.

But according to Reuters, unlike his predecessors in the Bush administration, Mr. Biden declined to endorse Georgia's NATO bid outright.

"I'm in favor of Georgia's continued independence and autonomy," he said, adding that seeking NATO membership "is a decision for Georgia to make."

Writing on February 8, RFE/RL regional commentator Ahto Lobjakas suggested Georgia was "fading on EU [and] NATO radar screens."

Obama campaign manager queried over paid speech in Azerbaijan

David Plouffe pledged to donate proceeds from his paid speech in Azerbaijan to pro-democracy groups after his surprise trip was made public and subsequently questioned in U.S. media, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 9. Mr. Plouffe was Barack Obama's campaign manager.

Mr. Plouffe, who secured a lucrative deal to write a book about the presidential campaign, registered with the Washington Speakers Bureau, based in Alexandria, Va., to deliver paid speeches on the subject. He was reportedly paid $50,000 in addition to expenses associated with a two-day trip to deliver a lecture at an Azerbaijani college.

The trip and payment were reportedly arranged by hired American lobbyists for Azerbaijan who are also based in the same Virginia suburb of Washington. Mr. Plouffe was expected to meet President Ilham Aliyev, although contrary to usual practice, the meeting was not publicized by the president's office.

According Mr. Plouffe's associate contacted by the Journal, Mr. Plouffe "only learned of [foreign government lobbyists'] involvement after he had already embarked for the Caspian Sea nation."

The newspaper also cited U.S. officials as noting the "Azerbaijan government has long sought to legitimize itself by hosting prominent Americans, often with the help of Washington lobbyists." Other leading media outlets question Mr. Plouffe's liaison with an authoritarian leader.

The White House spokesperson said that Mr. Plouffe's trip was as a "private citizen" and he was not asked to deliver any messages on behalf of the Obama administration.

Poll: U.S. edges out China and Russia in worldwide popularity

Although more respondents worldwide still hold negative views of the United States, the overall view of the United States has improved while that of Russia and China has declined, according to a BBC World Service Poll conducted in 26 countries around the world late last year and made public on February 5.

According to the findings, 40 percent of respondents had a positive view of the United States (vs. 43 percent with negative views), 39 percent had positive views of China (vs. 40 percent) and 30 percent had positive views of Russia (vs. 42 percent).

Iran, Pakistan, and Israel, in that order, had the most negative ratings; while Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada were seen in the most positive light, by 61, 58, and 57 percent of respondents, respectively.

The poll involved 13,575 respondents in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, India, Russia, China, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. connect: www.worldpublicopinion.org

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