Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama in Turkey, Gordon held-up, U.S. to talk to Iran

This was first published in April 11, 2009 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama visits Turkey, calls Azerbaijan

Pres. Obama enters a Mosque in Istanbul. White House photo.

President Barack Obama visited Turkey on April 6-7 in an effort to rebuild a troubled alliance and reach out to the Muslim world. The White House reported that on April 7, Mr. Obama also placed a call to the president of Azerbaijan.

Addressing the Turkish parliament, the U.S. president said he was "committed to renewing the alliance" that has come under strain as U.S. and Turkish policies on Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East conflict drifted further apart in recent years.

Mr. Obama said his visit was evidence of the importance he placed on U.S.-Turkish relations, although no formal agreements were announced during the trip. From the first days of his administration, Mr. Obama said he wanted to reach out to the Islamic world and was expected to visit a majority-Muslim country in the first months of his presidency.

In January, Turkey invited Mr. Obama to attend a United Nations conference dubbed the Alliance of Civilizations, held in Istanbul. The invitation led to an official visit to Turkey at the end of Mr. Obama's tour of Europe.

Speaking in parliament, Mr. Obama praised Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Turkish political system, while also noting that there are disagreements and outstanding issues such as the history of Armenian-Turkish relations.

The latter subject also featured in a "good conversation" Mr. Obama had with Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, in which the "U.S commitment to a strong relationship with Azerbaijan and to supporting progress toward a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" were reiterated.

According to Hurriyet newspaper, upset with reports of progress in Armenia­-­Turkey talks, Mr. Aliyev refused to attend the Alliance of Civilizations meeting even after being telephoned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who reportedly promised a meeting with Mr. Obama.

Instead, Mr. Aliyev dispatched his daughter Leyla Aliyeva. Ms. Aliyeva serves as the Moscow representative for the Heydar Aliyev Foundation headed by her mother Mehriban Aliyeva.

State Department nominee held up over Armenian Genocide comments

Left out of President Obama's trip to Turkey was his pick for assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, Philip Gordon. According to Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Gordon planned to depart after confirmation by the Senate on April 3, but his nomination was held up at the last moment.

In a statement issued on the same day, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed the "delay as a meaningful opportunity for senators to weigh the merits of approving a nominee with a record of arguing against [U.S.] recognition of the Armenian genocide." (See this page in the March 14 Armenian Reporter for some of Mr. Gordon's past comments on the subject.)

During a March 27 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Mr. Gordon's nomination, his views were scrutinized by Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.), who had previously blocked a Bush administration nominee for ambassador to Armenia over his comments on the Genocide.

But according to Foreign Policy, Mr. Menendez eventually decided not to block Mr. Gordon‘s candidacy and abstained in the committee vote.

On April 8, the Armenian Assembly of America reported that it was Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.) who requested the postponement of Mr. Gordon's confirmation. In 2007 Mr. Ensign was the main Republican co-sponsor of a Senate resolution on Armenian Genocide.

The Senate is expected to return to consideration of the nominee after its Easter recess.

U.S. joins talks with Iran, requests release of detainees

In a departure from Bush administration policy, the State Department said on April 8 that the United States will formally join other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany in their ongoing talks with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

Barack Obama advocated direct talks with Iran during his presidential campaign. Under George W. Bush, the United States insisted that Iran first halt nuclear fuel enrichment as a condition for U.S. participation in the talks.

Incidentally, on April 9 the New York Times reported that Iran had announced just days earlier making advances in its ability to enrich uranium.

On April 6, the State Department additionally urged Iran to release 34-year-old Silva Harotonian, an Iranian-Armenian employee of the U.S.-funded International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) imprisoned in Iran since last June.

The State Department's acting spokesperson Robert Wood said that charges against Ms. Harotonian - of plotting against the Iranian government on behalf of the United States - were "baseless" and that "she is reportedly in poor and deteriorating health as a direct consequence of her confinement."

Ms. Harotonian's case, first made public last January, was covered by the Los Angeles Times on April 2 and ABC News on April 7. (See also a story in the Reporter's Feb. 28 edition.)

Georgian opposition launches campaign for president’s ouster

Georgian opposition posters. Photo:

Political opponents of Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili began on April 9 what they promise will be continuing protests aimed at toppling the president, whom they blame for authoritarianism and last year's defeat in the war with Russia.

The opposition includes a number of past allies of Mr. Saakashvili's, including former parliament Speaker Nino Bourjanadze and former Ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasania, the two figures seen as frontrunners in a potential early election.

In a manifesto released before the campaign's launch, the opposition pledged to guarantee Mr. Saakashvili's personal security should he resign voluntarily. Mr. Saakashvili in turn offered dialogue to the opposition, but insists he will stay in office until his second term of office expires in 2013.

No comments: