Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama aid request, Lavrov in DC, Davutoglu and Knesset news

This was first published in May 9, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama’s Armenia aid request: less than Congress, more than Bush

In his first budget proposal to Congress detailed on May 7, President Barack Obama largely continued George W. Bush's policy of requesting a reduction in U.S. assistance to Armenia.

The Obama administration requested $30 million in aid to Armenia in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, down from $48 million allocated by Congress in 2009 and $58 million in 2008. However, the request is larger than the $24 million requested by the Bush administration in January 2008 before that amount was doubled by congressional appropriators.

The request also suggested $3.45 million in military aid to Armenia and $4.9 million requested for Azerbaijan, an approach long criticized and repeatedly revised by Congress. Azerbaijan would also get $22.12 million in non-military aid, up from less than $19 million spent in 2008–9.

Congressional appropriators can significantly alter these figures later in the budget process.

Last March, co-chairs of the congressional Armenian caucus Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) already made their Armenia aid recommendations, including $70 million in economic and $5 million in military aid, and a further $10 million for Nagorno-Karabakh.

The administration also requested a total of more than $322 million in aid to Georgia. This includes $80 million in regular military and non-military aid for 2010, and the rest in 2009 supplemental assistance in furtherance of $1 billion in U.S. aid promised after Georgia's brief war with Russia.

Overall, while cutting other programs the administration requested an increase in foreign aid to a total of $36.5 billion, including more than $762 million for former Soviet republics and $1.4 billion in Millennium Challenge programs around the world.

As before, the bulk of foreign military funding will go to Israel ($2.775 billion) and Egypt ($1.3 billion). Afghanistan and Pakistan would get the biggest non-military aid packages, at $2.2 and $1.1 billion, respectively.

U.S., Russia say both want Caucasus stability, but disagree on Georgia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia met in Washington on May 7 to discuss a long list of issues on U.S.-Russia agenda. Mr. Lavrov was also received by President Barack Obama, who confirmed plans to visit Russia in July.

The meeting was preceded by a fresh row between Russia and U.S.-led NATO over the alliance's military exercise in Georgia that began this week, as well as NATO's expulsion of Russian diplomats amid allegations of spying.

At a joint press conference, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lavrov both sought to emphasize areas of cooperation, including recently launched strategic arms reduction talks and Middle East priorities such talks with Iran and efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Mr. Lavrov said the South Caucasus was among the issues discussed and that while the United States and Russia continued to "have obvious differences" they agreed on "need to do [their] best in order to achieve stability there."

The NATO exercise in Georgia went ahead despite reports of a mutiny in one of the Georgian military units, which the Tbilisi government claimed was attempted by military officers and former officials who had served under ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze (1992–2003).

Mr. Shevardnadze, who was ousted by current president Mikheil Saakashvili, has in recent months been criticizing his successor with increased frequency.

Following reports of mutiny, which the government said it was able to quickly diffuse by arresting dozens of suspects, opposition groups clashed with police for the first time since they launched a thus-far unsuccessful campaign to oust Mr. Saakashvili nearly a month ago.

On May 7, in a move long encouraged by the U.S. government, opposition parties issued a statement saying they were ready to meet with Mr. Saakashvili in a bid to avoid further confrontation.

Turkish government ideologue appointed foreign minister

Ahmet Davutoglu formally replaced Ali Babacan as Turkish foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle announced on May 1. As top foreign policy advisor to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Davutoglu has been credited with masterminding the Turkish foreign policy that has seen Ankara become more independent of Washington and improve relations with Russia, Iran, and Syria.

Prior to joining the government in 2003, Mr. Davutoglu, was a professor of international relations at several Istanbul universities. He was born in 1959 in central Turkish city of Konya.

Mr. Davutoglu has argued that better relations with neighbors would allow Turkey to play a more prominent and independent international role rather than serve as Cold War-style Western ally.

During a visit to Washington last October Mr. Davutoglu insisted that Turkey wants "to have best relations with Armenia," and "good relations" with Armenians everywhere in the Diaspora, and that he and his government "don't see Armenia as a threat; we don't see Armenians as enemies."

Israeli Knesset revisits Armenian Genocide

"We have a moral duty to remember the killing of Armenians," a spokesperson for the rightwing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on May 6, Yediot Aharanot newspaper reported the same day.

But like his predecessors, Gilad Erdan relayed the government's opposition to commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset, deferring to Turkey's position on the issue.

"Israel has never denied the terrible acts carried out against the Armenians," Mr. Erdan added. "And I am well aware of the intensity of the emotions given the number of victims and the suffering of the Armenian people."

The debate took place in the Knesset House Committee on the urging of veteran Knesset member Haim Oron who heads the small leftwing Meretz party and has championed the issue for years.

Interviewed by PanArmenian.Net, another supporter of Genocide affirmation in the Knesset Ze'ev Elkin suggested the time has not yet come for a formal decision by the Knesset. Since the last election, Mr. Elkin became the leader of the ruling coalition in the parliament. [See my earlier interview with him.]

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