Friday, May 29, 2009

Obama deals with Armenian genocide issue by sticking close to Clinton-Bush approach; new Caspian envoy appointed

First published in April 25, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama, Biden tout genocide prevention

On April 23, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both took part in events to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In a speech at the Capitol Rotunda, Mr. Obama stressed the importance of confronting genocide denial as well as working toward genocide prevention.

“We have the opportunity to commit ourselves to resisting injustice, intolerance, and indifference in whatever forms they may take, whether confronting those who tell
lies about history or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities,” the president said.

[The following day, on April 24, Pres. Obama deferred to Turkey in not using the term Armenian genocide in his first Armenian Remembrance Day statement. The statement, which again referred to Mr. Obama's past affirmation of the genocide, caused a mild irritation of the Turkish government and was harshly criticized by Armenian American organizations. - E.S.]

Genocide prevention should be treated “not just as a moral imperative,” but also as a “national security priority,” Vice President Biden said in remarks at a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum event.

Responding to genocide is “strategically necessary,” he said. “When genocide goes unchecked America’s credibility and leadership is tarnished.”

U.S. avoids Armenian genocide references, promotes Armenia-Turkey talks

Vice President Joe Biden telephoned President Serge Sargsian twice this week to discuss Armenia’s talks with Turkey, and the State Department encouraged the two countries to reach “normalization [of relations] without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe.”

According to the Armenian president’s office, the first conversation took place on April 20. Just two days later the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries issued a joint statement. That April 22 statement committed Armenia and Turkey to continued talks on normalization of relations in accordance with a “road map” that has not yet been made public. The same day, the State Department welcomed the development in a press release.

In a follow-up call on April 23, Mr. Biden welcomed the “statement regarding [Armenia’s and Turkey’s] commitment to normalize their relations,” the White House press office reported the same day. He also “applauded President Sargsian’s leadership, and underscored the Administration’s firm support for both Armenia and Turkey in this process.”

Also this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed optimism about Armenia- Turkey talks and the Karabakh peace process. Speaking in hearings held by congressional committees two days before Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day and just hours before a joint Armenia-Turkis statement on talks, Mrs. Clinton did not refer to and was not asked about the genocide.

Like her predecessor Condoleezza Rice did in the past, Mrs. Clinton only alluded to the Genocide as “shared tragic history” that needs to be addressed by Armenians and Turks.

At the House Foreign Affairs committee on April 22, the subject of Armenia was brought up by Turkey Caucus co-chair Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) who asked about “possible extraordinary breakthroughs” between Armenia and Turkey. (As it turned out Mr. Wexler had "heads up" from State Department and/or Ankara about the upcoming joint statement.)

Turkish officials and their Washington lobbyists have been playing up the likelihood of such a “breakthrough” for weeks, while simultaneously warning U.S. leaders not to refer to the Genocide, as that might prevent the would-be “breakthroughs.”

Mrs. Clinton responded that she has “been very encouraged by the bold steps that have recently been taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders to reconcile their countries with each other and with their shared and painful past.” She did not specify the “bold steps,” adding that the United States has been asked to and was supporting Armenia-Turkey “reconciliation” efforts.

Hillary Clinton "reassures" Azerbaijan about Karabakh talks

Mr. Wexler also asked about the Karabakh conflict. In response, Mrs. Clinton said the United States has “assured the government of Azerbaijan that we will intensify our efforts to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and other outstanding issues between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

She promised that the United States would continue to be “deeply engaged” through the OSCE Minsk Group, adding that she hoped that “there will be some resolution in the next month.”

Asked about that latter comment, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza declined to comment on the secretary’s stated timeframe, but said that he, along with the French and Russian envoys for Karabakh talks “welcome continuing progress in efforts with Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve the final differences in the Basic Principles for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.”

In a comment to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Bryza added, “The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are demonstrating mutual respect for each other, as they engage in give-and-take discussions that are gaining momentum.” Foreign aid

Also at the hearing, committee member Rep. Brad Sherman (D.- Calif.) suggested that the United States should increase aid to Armenia and either “eliminate or at least maintain parity” in military aid to Azerbaijan; the secretary of state was expected to respond to that issue in writing.

On April 23, Mrs. Clinton spoke to the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which authorizes foreign affairs funding, to request an additional $7 billion for State Department and foreign operations as part of an $84 billion in supplemental funding request for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The supplemental also included “assistance for Georgia that the prior administration promised that we believe we should fulfill,” Mrs. Clinton said in a prepared statement. Shortly after the war last August, the Bush administration pledged $1 billion in aid to Georgia.

Clinton-era official re-appointed as U.S.’ Caspian envoy

On April 20 Ambassador Richard Morningstar was appointed Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy to “provide the Secretary [of State] with strategic advice on policy issues relating to development, transit, and distribution of energy resources in Eurasia.”

Amb. Morningstar already worked in similar capacity in 1998–99, before being appointed U.S. ambassador to the European Union (1999–2001). In 1995–98, Mr. Morningstar was the official in charge of U.S. aid programs in the former Soviet republics. In recent years he was an adjunct lecturer at Harvard and Stanford universities.

Amb. Morningstar is now likely to focus on what is known as the Nabucco gas pipeline – intended to link non-Russian gas producers such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and possibly Iran to European consumers via pipelines that don’t cross Russia and thus reduce Europe’s dependence on that country.

In recent months, the Nabucco scheme came under greater strain as Azerbaijan hinted it might sell its natural gas to Russia, and Turkey sought to use the project as leverage in its talks with the EU, which has already authorized some initial funding for the gas pipeline.

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