Sunday, May 3, 2009

Arm. caucus on U.S. aid/policy, Rustamian letter, Davutoglu visit, Obama msg. to Iran, EU on EE

First published in March 28, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Armenian Caucus co-chairs make aid, policy proposals

The United States should increase engagement with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and tighten existing restrictions on ties with Azerbaijan, Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues recommended in a March 24 letter to colleagues.

The letter, currently open for additional co-signers, is addressed to Reps. Nita Lowey (D.-N.Y., pictured) and Kay Granger (R.-Tex.), respectively chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee which sets foreign-aid levels at the early stages of the annual budget process.

Specifically, the Pallone-Kirk letter argued for an increase in U.S. economic aid to Armenia from Fiscal Year 2009 level of $48mln to $70mln; military aid, from $3.5mln to $5mln; and aid to Nagorno-Karabakh from $8mln to $10mln.

The letter also recommends report language that would lift any "official or unofficial restrictions" on formal U.S. engagement with Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as support for confidence-building measures to help resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Additionally, citing Azerbaijan's continued war threats, the letter recommends an additional condition on presidential authority to waive existing restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.

The new language would require the executive branch to certify that "in the last fiscal year, Azerbaijan has not taken hostile action, either through military force or incitement, including but not limited to threatening pronouncements by government officials, toward Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh."

Should that condition be met, the co-chairs suggest equal levels of military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan, or the so-called "parity" approach to continue.

Last summer, the effort by Mr. Kirk's predecessor as co-chair, former Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.) to zero out U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan outright failed narrowly in the subcommittee vote.

Armenian politician weighs in on Genocide resolution

In a rare letter to a congressional colleague, a senior member of the Armenian parliament wrote to express "complete support" for the House Resolution 252 affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide, introduced earlier this month.

Armen Rustamian, chair of the National Assembly's Foreign Relations Committee and senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)'s leadership, addressed the March 19 letter to his U.S. counterpart, Rep. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which should next consider the resolution. The letter was circulated by the ARF's press service.

While pursuing universal recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide is Armenia's official policy, senior Armenian officials have rarely spoken out on specific proposals before the U.S. Congress. On the other hand, Turkish leaders have frequently voiced their opposition to the resolution.

Last week, a spokesperson for the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) reiterated her support for genocide recognition but added that congressional action on resolution was not imminent. The spokesperson, Brendan Day, told Reuters on March 19 that "no one's talking about a vote any time soon."

Senior Turkish official in Washington ahead of Obama’s visit

Ahmet Davutoglu, senior foreign policy advisor to Turkish leaders, last week met with U.S. officials to discuss President Barack Obama's visit to Ankara and Istanbul on April 5-7.

After meeting Mr. Obama's national security advisor Jim Jones on March 19, Mr. Davutoglu told Reuters that he could not say what the Obama administration's intentions were with regard to the president's pre-election pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide, adding only that the two officials "went through all these issues in a very friendly and cooperative manner."

Administration officials have so far refused to address the Armenian Genocide issue directly.

Mr. Davutoglu suggested that U.S.-Turkey relations were "in a historic era where our policies are almost identical on all issues," Associated Press reported him as saying on March 19. He added that the Armenian Genocide issue "could be debated from a historical perspective, but should not hijack the strategic vision of Turkish-American relations or Turkish-Armenian relations."

With regard to Armenia-Turkey talks, Mr. Davutoglu said that "there is a process, and everyone should strengthen this process and not try to weaken it," the Washington Post cited him as saying. "We hope that the discussions on the Armenian issue [in U.S.] do not affect this process in a negative sense."

During a visit to Washington shortly before the presidential elections, Mr. Davutoglu insisted that Turkey wants "to have best relations with Armenia," and "good relations" with Armenians in the diaspora.

Obama offers goodwill message to Iran

President Barack Obama stressed U.S. commitment to diplomacy and dialogue with the Iranian government in a March 20 video message dedicated to Nowruz, the Iranian new year.

"I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek," Mr. Obama said in the message. "It's a future with greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace."

Mr. Obama's comments reflected a campaign pledge to reach out to Iran. But the message also referred to "terror" and "arms," reflecting longstanding U.S. charges that Iran supports terrorist groups and seeks to develop nuclear weapons.

A spokesperson for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed "the wish of the president of the United States to put away past differences." But in an interview with Reuters, the spokesperson, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, put the blame for tensions on the U.S. "The only source of instability in the region is the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan," he claimed.

In what is seen as a step toward U.S.-Iranian dialogue, Iranian officials said this week they would attend a United Nations conference on Afghanistan to be held in The Hague on March 31. The conference was proposed by the United States earlier this month, as the Obama administration has made stabilization of Afghanistan its immediate foreign policy priority.

European Union leaders agree on “Eastern” policy

Member countries of the European Union have formally approved two policy initiatives involving their eastern neighbors.

During a March 19-20 summit in Brussels, European leaders agreed to set aside 600 million euros for a multiyear program dubbed "Eastern Partnership," which will involve Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, RFE/RL reported.

The program is viewed as a counterweight to Russia's increasingly dominant posture in the former Soviet space since the war in Georgia last year. While promising increased cooperation up to free trade agreements and visa-free travel, it makes no mention of potential European Union expansion into the area.

In a related development, the European Union agreed to spend 200 million euros to facilitate the Nabucco gas pipeline from the Caspian region to Europe, bypassing Russia. Europeans hope the new route will lessen their dependence on Russia as supplier of natural gas.

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