Friday, May 29, 2009

Armenian FM invited to U.S., Armenia may join NATO's Afghan mission

This was first published in May 2, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Armenian FM to visit U.S. after “historic step” with Turkey

Armenia's FM Nalbandian was last in Washington in July 2008 to meet then Secretary of State Condy Rice. Armenian Reporter photo.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Armenian foreign minister Edward Nalbandian to welcome the April 22 statement by the foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey as a "historic step," Armenia's Public Radio reported on April 28. The statement committed Armenia and Turkey to an "on-­going process" with a goal of normalizing bilateral relations.

According to informed sources, Mrs. Clinton also extended an invitation for Mr. Nalbandian to visit Washington early next week, which the foreign minister accepted.

Meanwhile, the Armenian Assembly of America reported that on April 27 its leader Hirair Hovnanian was telephoned by Vice President Joe Biden. According to the Assembly, "they exchanged views on the history and status of Armenian-American community efforts to obtain affirmation by the U.S. government of the Armenian Genocide."

[UPDATE: According to an informed source, Mr. Biden also called an Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) leader to argue that Obama administration's avoidance of the genocide term was acquisced to by the Armenian leadership seeking normalization of relations with Turkey. - E.S.]

According to U.S. and Armenian reports, last week Mr. Biden called Armenian President Serge Sargsian twice, both before and after the April 22 statement was made public. During the second call, Mr. Sargsian was praised for his "leadership" on the issue.

For its part, the Assembly welcomed the April 22 statement by Armenia and Turkey, while also expressing disappointment about President Barack Obama's April 24 statement that did not contain the word genocide.

State Dept. report notes Armenia’s “active interest” in aiding the U.S. in Afghanistan

In July 2000, then–Defense Secretary William Cohen (left) signs a nonproliferation deal with Armenia’s Serge Sargsian. Department of Defense

After Armenian peacekeepers completed their mission in Iraq last October, "the Armenian Ministry of Defense has expressed active interest in sending a peacekeeping contingent to Afghanistan in support of the International Security Assistance Force," according to the State Department's annual "Country reports on terrorism 2008," released on April 30.

Discussions of such a deployment were already reported in October 2007, when the then-prime minister Serge Sargsian visited the United States.

Overall, the report registered a considerable decline in terrorism-related fatalities from the high of 22,500 deaths in 2007 to under 16,000 in 2008. While there was a decline in terrorist activity in Iraq, an increase was registered in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan.

The report also noted that "Armenia's counterterrorism partnership with the United States included granting blanket over-flight clearance and ad hoc landing rights to U.S. military aircraft," as well as cooperation on non­proliferation issues.

(Arminfo reported on April 29 that the Armenian Defense Ministry asked the National Assembly to ratify a prolongation of the July 24, 2000, U.S.-Armenia Agreement on Counterproliferation. The agreement, which became the first in a series of U.S.-Armenia security agreements, was signed during an earlier visit to the U.S. by Mr. Sargsian, who was minister of defense at the time.)

While referring to "measured progress in implementing border security and anti-trafficking measures," the U.S. report retained some of the concerns expressed about Armenia last year.

The concerns included reported "widespread corruption" that hampered counterterrorism efforts as well "interest in strengthening its ties with Iran," that was said to lead to Armenia's reluctance "to participate in international efforts that criticized or placed pressure on Iran."

Like last year, the report expressed no such concerns with regard to Azerbaijan or Georgia.

“Rival” gas pipelines discussed in Sofia, Prague

European countries are continuing to discuss ways to safeguard their gas supplies from interruptions, resulting in part from their overdependence on supplies from Russia and the latter's recurring pricing disputes with transit countries like Ukraine.

A meeting in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on April 24-25 brought together senior officials from 28 countries and, according to local media, focused on the so-called South Stream project that would bring Russian natural gas under the Black Sea to Turkey and then on to Europe, thus avoiding Ukraine.

That summit's main intrigue was Russian premier Vladimir Putin's decision to pull out at the last moment, sending his energy minister instead. According to media speculation, Mr. Putin's decision came after Bulgaria declined to cede its gas distribution network to Russia's Gazprom as part of South Stream.

For their part, Europeans seek to increase the transparency of gas purchase and transit agreements made by Gazprom with Central Asian gas suppliers.

On May 6–7, the European Union will hold its summit in the Czech capital. On the agenda there is EU support for the U.S.-backed Nabucco gas pipeline that aims to bring Central Asian (and potentially Iranian) gas to Europe bypassing Russia via Turkey. (Turkey has conditioned its support for Nabucco on progress of its accession talks with the union, which are hampered by objections from Cyprus.)

The Prague summit will also bring together leaders of four former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine, for the formal launch of the "Eastern partnership" proposed by the EU. Leaders of Belarus and Moldova are expected to stay out over their disputes with EU member-states.

Freedom House catalogues worldwide media struggles

"Journalists faced an increasingly grim working environment in 2008," the Freedom House reported in its annual report released on May 1. The think tank's research registered global decline for the seventh year in a row and, for the first time, a decline in every region of the world.

The biggest decline of any region was again registered in Eastern Europe / Former Soviet Union, but even countries like Israel, Italy, and Hong Kong were relegated from "free" to "partly free" status.

Country reports were not available as of press time, but the think tank was expected to again put Armenia's press environment in the "not free" category, as in several preceding reports.

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