Monday, May 18, 2009

Gordon nominated, Turkish caucus readies ground for Obama in Turkey, House Intel hearing on Armenia

This was first published in April 4, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama begins tour of Europe and Turkey

President Barack Obama began a weeklong five-city tour that focuses on the European allies of the United States, relations with Russia and Turkey, and the economic crisis. The trip is the president’s first major foray abroad since taking office.

In London on April 1–2, Mr. Obama was joined by leaders of world’s largest economies, including those of Russia and Turkey, for the G20 economic summit. Talks with the Russian president were followed by a joint statement pledging a fresh nuclear disarmament initiative, and cooperation on missile defense, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, and talks with Iran.

The president’s next stop, Strasbourg (April 3–4), is hosting the 60th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which just expanded to 28 members after formally adopting Albania and Croatia. Another former Yugoslav republic, Macedonia, has been blocked from joining due to Greece’s longstanding objections to that country’s name.

A spokesperson for the State Department said on April 1 that NATO is open to additional members and “that both Georgia and Ukraine, should they choose to become NATO members and meet NATO’s membership criteria, will someday become members of the alliance.”

While U.S. officials refuse to admit it, rhetorically there has been markedly less enthusiasm for the two countries’ membership since the brief war between Russia and Georgia last August.

After a stop in Prague for a summit between the United States and the European Union on April 5, Mr. Obama will continue to Ankara (April 5–6) and Istanbul (April 6–7).

According to a White House national security affairs spokesperson, Denis McDonough, who spoke with Turkish media on March 28, the Ankara itinerary includes a visit to the Ataturk Mausoleum; a meeting with the Turkish president, followed by lunch and a joint press conference; an address to the Turkish parliament; and a meeting with the prime minister.

In Istanbul later on April 6, Mr. Obama will participate in the meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations – a United Nations program co-initiated by Turkey and Spain. The alliance brings together 78 countries worldwide, including Azerbaijan, Iran, and Russia, but not Armenia, Georgia, or Israel.

And on the final day of the trip, Mr. Obama will meet with Turkey’s religious leaders, visit Sultanahmet Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and participate in a roundtable with a group of Turkish students joined by others in Europe and Middle East via video conference.

Administration nominee promises “energetic engagement” on Karabakh

“We must engage energetically on enduring conflicts in Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh,” newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee during his March 27 confirmation hearings.

In his prepared testimony, Mr. Gordon also promised to “support the negotiations on a settlement in Cyprus; promote Turkey’s EU aspirations while encouraging it to improve relations with Armenia, Cyprus and Greece; and vigorously promote the diversification of European energy supplies.”

Mr. Gordon, the State Department’s new manager for Europe and Eurasia, also noted the need to “promote democracy, encourage economic reform, protect national
sovereignty and territorial integrity, and resolve the enduring conflicts that cause needless suffering on a daily basis and – as we saw last summer in Georgia – risk erupting violently at any time.”

Possibly reflecting the Obama administration’s interest in engaging Russia, and while referring to “the Russian invasion of Georgia and unjustifiable recognition of two breakaway regions,” the testimony did not as in the past offer outright support for Georgia’s position on those regions.

Committee member Sen. Bob Menendez (D.-N.J.) raised concerns with Mr. Gordon’s past opposition Armenian Genocide affirmation and tilt in favor of Turkey on the Cyprus conflict.

In his response, Mr. Gordon referred to the Genocide as “a terrible tragedy” and used other language that was also employed by former President George W. Bush and his officials when discussing the issue.

He also declined to term Turkish military presence in Cyprus an occupation.

Turkey’s friends in Congress write to Obama, Gül, and Sargsian

Rep. Wexler during Obama's campaign in Florida.

Congressional supporters of U.S.-Turkey ties who have also opposed past resolutions affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide have written to Presidents Barack Obama, Abdullah Gül, and Serge Sargsian to “support Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.”

Reps. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.), Ike Skelton (D.-Mo.), Alcee Hastings (D.-Fla.) and John Murtha (D.-Penn.) were the main signatories to the Gül-Sargsian letter. Mr. Wexler co-chairs the congressional Turkey caucus.

In 2007 he was joined by Reps. Skelton, Hastings, Murtha, and other senior democratic members in opposing passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution, which was
supported by the House Democratic leadership.

The March 30 letter addressed to Presidents Gül and Sargsian said its authors “care deeply about Armenia and Turkey” and supported “ongoing efforts . . . to heal open wounds, mend broken hearts and create a better future for both nations and peoples.”

In an April 1 letter to Mr. Obama, Mr. Wexler was joined by other Turkey caucus co-chairs and 27 other members to tout Turkey’s importance and call on the president to step up U.S.-Turkey cooperation.

Among other issues in the long agenda, they called on the Obama “Administration [to] lend its unequivocal support to Turkey and its rapprochement efforts with its neighbor Armenia.”

The letter makes no mention of Mr. Obama’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide or the congressional resolution on the issue introduced last month.

House Intelligence Committee holds Armenia briefing

A key congressional panel that oversees the U.S. intelligence community this week held a rare briefing dedicated to Armenia. According to a public notice on its website, the House Select Intelligence Committee met on March 31 to receive a closed “Briefing on Armenia,” presumably given by administration officials.

Congressional aides declined to discuss the briefing, citing government secrecy, but a source familiar with the issue told the Armenian Reporter that the U.S. and Armenian governments were working cooperatively on the issue that was the briefing’s focus.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D.-Tex.) and includes as a member Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.). Rep. Schiff and two other committee members visited Armenia during a May 2008 trip that included stops in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

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