Monday, June 22, 2009

ANCA vs. Obama; Hillary to Serge; Gordon cleared; Turkish-Azeri lobby; Putin & Erdogan

This was first published in May 23, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

ANCA charges Obama with “grave offense” to Armenian Americans

In a strongly worded communication, the Armenian National Committee of America's chair Ken Hachikian urged President Barack Obama to "revise the course your Administration has chosen on issues of special concern to Armenia Americans."

The May 18 letter by the largest Armenian-American advocacy organization identified President Obama's recent foreign-aid request but especially the failure to uphold his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as "a grave offense to Armenian Americans and a disservice to all Americans."

While continuing the Bush administration's policy of deference to Turkey and avoiding the term genocide when discussing the Ottoman-Armenian experience, President Obama and his officials have sought to emphasize the importance of Armenia-Turkey talks.

Sources familiar with discussions prior to the president's April 24 statement told the Armenian Reporter that a senior administration official had argued that the statement should forego the term genocide in order not to hinder an anticipated breakthrough between Armenia and Turkey. According to the Turkish press, the United States was also behind securing the April 22 Armenian-Turkish statement announcing progress in talks.

But the ANCA argued, "ongoing dialogue between Armenia and Turkey should have no bearing on [President Obama's] willingness to speak the truth about the Armenian Genocide; our stand against all instances of genocide should be unconditional."

[ANCA endorsed Mr. Obama's presidential bid in early 2008 and actively campaigned for his candidacy throughout the primary and general election.]

U.S. reassures Armenia on Turkey talks

A letter from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent to Armenian President Serge Sargsian last week reiterated U.S. support for Armenia-Turkey talks.

The letter came just as Turkish leaders again ruled out normalization of relations unless Armenia makes concessions on the Karabakh issue, and an aide to Azerbaijan's president alleged that there was no progress on that issue because the United States and other mediators had a "Christian bias" in favor of Armenia.

The United States has supported Armenia's efforts to normalize relations with Turkey quickly and without preconditions, but the administration has identified no concrete timeframe and is seeking to achieve "parallel" progress in Karabakh talks.

Asked about the letter's intent, a State Department spokesperson told the Armenian Reporter that the letter was private and he could not comment on it.

The Armenian president's office said on May 15 that the letter also dealt with bilateral relations, including U.S. aid to Armenia channeled through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, whose board is chaired by Mrs. Clinton, and stressed the importance of free and fair conduct of the May 31 elections for Yerevan city council.

State Department’s new Eurasia manager confirmed

Philip Gordon, the Obama administration's nominee for assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, was confirmed by the Senate on May 14, the Foreign Policy magazine blog The Cable reported the following morning.

According to earlier reports, Mr. Gordon's nomination was held up for over a month by Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.) because of Mr. Gordon's opposition to U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.

According to an anonymous source cited by Greek News on May 13, Mr. Ensign decided to drop his hold, first introduced in early April, after Armenia announced it had agreed to a normalization process with Turkey in a joint April 22 statement.

Meanwhile, in response to an inquiry from Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) as part of the confirmation process, Mr. Gordon's previous employer the Brookings Institution reported receiving more than $710,000 in funding from Turkish corporate entities since 2006. Most of the money went toward Brookings' Turkey program, run by former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris.

In responses to Mr. Menendez's written questions, also published by Greek News, Mr. Gordon studiously avoided the term genocide, while "mourning" the deaths of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians, recalled his support for Turkey "to come to terms with its history" and improve relations with Armenia, "if Armenia shows a real commitment to a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

Mr. Gordon's responses indicated no change to U.S. policy of restricted engagement with authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh and continued U.S. humanitarian aid to its residents.

Turkey, Azerbaijan boosters hold Washington events

Hardly a week goes by in the U.S. capital without a public event intended to extol the importance of Turkey to the world. Less frequently, but also on regular basis, the Azerbaijani government's mercenaries gather to discuss ways to ingratiate that eccentric regime to the Washington establishment.

On May 14 Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.), chair of the House Europe Subcommittee and co-chair of the congressional Turkey caucus, held what has become a biannual hearing on Turkey. This time the hearing was titled, "The United States and Turkey: A Model Partnership."

The hearing brought together Ian Lesser of the U.S. German Marshall Fund, David Phillips of the Atlantic Council of the United States, and Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who testified to the partnership's virtues.

Also on May 14, an event, "Azerbaijan and the West: Strategic Partnership at Eurasia's Crossroads," included Glen Howard and Vlad Socor of the Jamestown Foundation, a local think tank; Brenda Shaffer of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy; and Dan Fata, until recently a deputy assistant secretary of defense dealing with the Caucasus and now vice president at Cohen Group, a lobby shop run by former defense secretary Bill Cohen.

Putin meets Erdogan, indicates no change in Russia’s Karabakh policy

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a joint press conference in Sochi, Russia, May 16, 2009.

Meeting with visiting Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian premier Vladimir Putin appeared disinclined to lean on either Armenia or Azerbaijan to attempt any kind of settlement of the Karabakh standoff. Mr. Erdogan apparently had promised to raise the issue with Mr. Putin after visiting Azerbaijan last week.

Talking to the media following their May 16 meeting in the resort town of Sochi, Mr. Putin reiterated the Russian policy language that it was up to the parties to find an agreement.

"As to the difficult problems that we inherited from the past, which includes the Karabakh problem, a compromise must be found by the conflicting parties themselves," Mr. Putin said, when asked about the issue by a Turkish journalist. "All other states that are helping achieve that compromise can only serve as mediators and guarantors of implementation of agreements [that might be] achieved."

The talks focused on the expansion of Russian natural-gas exports to Turkey and plans to build four nuclear reactors in Turkey with Russia's participation.

According to RIA Novosti, this was the eighth meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan since December 2004, with these frequent contacts reflecting an expanding bilateral relationship. The 2008 bilateral trade turnover surpassed $33 billion, with Russia replacing Germany as Turkey's largest trade partner. Turkey is in turn Russia's fifth-largest trade partner.

On top of energy, economic relations include more than $20 billion in contracts won by Turkish construction companies in Russia over the last decade and growing Russian arms sales to Turkey.

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