Monday, July 6, 2009

Obama in Cairo, Davutoglu at UN, Russia/Georgia talks, Iran elections

First published in June 6, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Barack Obama urges fresh start with Muslim world

In a much-anticipated address, President Barack Obama acknowledged on June 4 misunderstandings between the United States and many Muslims, and also stressed that "America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition."

The almost-one-hour-long speech was delivered at Cairo University in Egypt before an audience of 3,000; it was also carried live worldwide. Among other things, the president sought to emphasize shared values between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, frequently quoting from holy books.

Mr. Obama also promised a more evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than simply supporting Israel's actions unconditionally, as was the case under George W. Bush.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama had already addressed Muslims via the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, in a Nowrooz message to Iranians, and during a visit to Turkey.

Separately, on June 1, the United States' Caspian energy envoy Richard Morningstar delivered a letter from Mr. Obama to Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.

According to reports in the Azerbaijani press, Mr. Obama stressed the importance of exporting energy products in and near Azerbaijan, and pledged to offer America's "partnership" and "friendship" for continued progress on energy issues.

FM: Turkey wants new emphasis on U.S. ties, continued Armenia talks

U.S.-Turkey relations should be forward-looking and "make contributions to humanity" rather than excessively focus, as they have, on military cooperation, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the American-Turkish Council (ATC) conference in a keynote address on June 2, Zaman reported.

The annual ATC conference is primarily funded by major U.S. weapons producers with a long history of selling their products to the Turkish military. It featured appearances by top military officers from both countries - Admiral Mike Mullen and General Ilker Basbug - who, Mr. Davutoglu noted, have known one another for 30 years.

Drawing a parallel between the United States and Roman Empire, Mr. Davutoglu urged the United States to take the more thoughtful, multilateral foreign-policy approach of Marcus Aurelius, rather than the unilateral approach of Julius Caesar.

Asked at a press conference the following day about Armenia-Turkey talks, Mr. Davutoglu sought to portray the process as continuing, albeit slowly. He also reiterated the linkage of Armenia-Turkey talks and the Karabakh dispute as "processes that positively support each other." He warned, however, that "moving frozen conflicts is a painful process which necessitates patience."

Mr. Davutoglu also acknowledged the link between Armenia-Turkey talks and Armenian-American efforts to pass a congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

He argued that a "positive pace" in Armenia-Turkey talks will have to be maintained so that "the Armenian issue [is] no longer an issue blocking Turkish-American relations."

During a weeklong U.S. trip, the Turkish foreign minister also visited the United Nations headquarters in New York, as Turkey assumed the Security Council's rotating presidency.

Russia, Georgia may discuss opening of border crossing

While the rhetoric between Moscow and Tbilisi remains acrimonious, the Russian Foreign Ministry has proposed to hold talks with Georgian diplomats on reopening the main highway linking the two countries at the Lars checkpoint. A formal request was reportedly made on May 24, and Georgian officials have said they agreed to begin talks.

Before being closed by Russia in 2006, formally for repairs but also as a form of pressure on Georgia, the road served as a key ground-transportation link for Armenia, which has since had to rely on Black Sea ferry links that bypassed the Russian-Georgian border.

Meanwhile in Tbilisi, the Georgian opposition campaign against incumbent President Mikheil Saakashvili began to unravel, after failing to win substantial public support. One of the main opposition leaders, Irakly Alasania, has effectively split from others in the opposition coalition, most notably Nino Bourjanadze and Levan Gachechiladze, by calling for dialogue with Mr. Saakashvili.

Iran’s president faces strong electoral challenge

Early expectations that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would easily win reelection in voting on June 12 have now been replaced with those of a close race with a former prime minister, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, with the outcome likely to be decided in a runoff election.

According to media reports, the two candidates launched into personal attacks as they debated one another on live television on June 3. The debate became so heated that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, reportedly intervened to halt it.

Mr. Mousavi was prime minister between 1981 and 1989, during the years of war with Iraq. He has criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad for doing a disservice to Iran as president. Mr. Mousavi is backed by Mr. Ahmadinejad's predecessor Mohammad Khatami, who was president between 1997 and 2005.

Coming up: Sarkozy, Gordon, and Peres in the Caucasus, Obama in Russia

Recently appointed Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon will be in the Caucasus the week of June 8, visiting Armenia on June 9.

On June 25–26, French president Nicolas Sarkozy will visit Kazakhstan and the three Caucasus states. France is one of the lead mediators in Karabakh negotiations.

On June 28, Israeli president Shimon Peres will be in Baku, as part of a trip to Central Asia.

And between July 6 and 8, President Barack Obama will visit Russia for talks that are likely to focus on Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea, but might also include discussion of Caucasus concerns.

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