Friday, May 29, 2009

Armenian FM visits Washington, avoids media

Washington hosts foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan
Brief visits intended to “prepare ground” for Karabakh talks
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday May 08, 2009

Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian after leaving the State Department on May 5. Mr. Nalbandian declined interview requests during a 2-day trip to Washington. Armenian Reporter photo

Washington, - The U.S. State Department hosted the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan this week on the eve of yet another meeting between the leaders of the two South Caucasus countries.

The visits lasted just two days - May 4-5 - because Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian of Armenia and Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan had to fly to Prague to join their presidents ahead of the European Union summit meeting on its "Eastern Partnership" initiative.

The two invitations were made after the Obama administration assured the government of Azerbaijan that it would step up efforts toward progress in the Karabakh peace process, as the Azerbaijani government grew increasingly anxious about apparent progress in Armenian-Turkish talks.

Karabakh and Turkey on "parallel tracks"

On May 5, Mr. Nalbandian met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as the outgoing assistant secretary for Eurasia Dan Fried and his deputy Matt Bryza.

Mr. Bryza told journalists at the State Department that meeting with the Armenian and Azerbaijani ministers, Mrs. Clinton sought to "prepare the ground for the meetings in Prague."

In brief introductory statements before their meeting on Tuesday morning, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Nalbandian expressed the customary readiness to expand bilateral relations, which Mrs. Clinton called "very lasting and durable."

"It was a very, very good meeting and constructive," said State Department spokesperson David Wood said the same day. "We have a lot of interests with Armenia, and we look forward to improving and strengthening the bilateral relationship as we go forward."

"Secretary Clinton underscored her personal commitment to do everything possible to accelerate our efforts on Nagorno-Karabakh within the OSCE Minsk Group to achieve a breakthrough," Mr. Bryza told the Armenian Reporter later in the day on May 5.

Recent Armenian-Turkish talks were also discussed.

"We view Armenia-Turkey relations as one track and the Nagorno-Karabakh [peace process] as another track," Mr. Bryza said. "They are separate tracks but they are moving forward in parallel, maybe at different speeds, and we hope this process of Armenia-Turkey normalization is going to help us achieve that breakthrough on Nagorno­-Karabakh."

Mr. Bryza declined to comment on a report claiming that he was actively involved in getting Armenia and Turkey to an agreement on the April 22 statement made by the Armenian, Turkish, and Swiss foreign ministries reporting "tangible progress and mutual understanding" in the process of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey.

Welcoming the April 22 statement, the State Department called for a "reasonable timeframe" for normalization of relations to be achieved.

Asked if, in line with the comments made by President Serge Sargsian, it was reasonable to expect the Armenian-Turkish border to open by October, Mr. Bryza suggested that was "up to the parties themselves, not the calendar."

Other meetings (and non-meetings)

On Capitol Hill, the Armenian minister met with the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), as well as Reps. Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.), Scott Garrett (R.-N.J.) and Steve Rothman (D.-N.J.).

Members of Congress reportedly raised concerns expressed by Armenian-Americans about the April 22 statement.

The statement was made just before the April 24 commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and was followed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation's departure from the ruling coalition.

Asked to comment, Rep. Pallone called the meeting with Mr. Nalbandian "positive."

The minister "expressed his hope that concrete steps will be taken to open the [Armenia-­Turkey] border by year's end," Rep. Pallone said in an e-mail to the Armenian Reporter. "He reiterated that normalization of relations must continue without preconditions regarding the ongoing peace process over Karabakh."

Informed sources told the Armenian Reporter that Mr. Nalbandian met with representatives of the Armenian Assembly of America, but not with their counterparts from the Armenian National Committee of America who reportedly declined to meet. Unlike the ANCA, the Assembly welcomed the April 22 Armenian-Turkish statement.

Mr. Nalbandian has been unavailable to answer media inquiries since the publication of the April 22 statement, including this newspaper's requests before and during the Washington trip. [Only issued a sort of "frequently asked questions" through the state ArmenPress news agency on April 28. - E.S.]

Also on the trip's agenda were bilateral issues, including the U.S.-Armenia Task Force meeting on economic cooperation due later this month, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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