by Emil Sanamyan
Secretary Clinton remains upbeat on Armenia-Turkey talks
There has been "no flagging of commitment" to the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 5. She was speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Asked whether she remained hopeful about a resolution of Armenian-Turkish relations on a bilateral track or in the Karabakh conflict since the statement by Armenia, Switzerland, and Turkey was issued on April 22, Mrs. Clinton said she remained "very encouraged by progress that has been made and commitment by governments involved."
Mrs. Clinton emphasized that Armenia and Turkey "have committed themselves to a process of normalization"; although she also counseled there was a need for "patience and perseverance" to achieve results in what she said was a "difficult undertaking" addressing longstanding issues.
She also pointed to this week's Armenia-Azerbaijan presidential summit in Saint Petersburg as evidence of progress in the Karabakh peace process.
Although immediately after the April 22 statement, the United States emphasized the need for the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations to take place "without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe," U.S. officials have since linked progress in these talks to the Karabakh negotiations, describing the two processes as parallel.
Armenian officials insist there should be "no parallelism" or any other linkages between the two processes.
The United States also has not defined what it would consider to be "a reasonable timeframe," with Mrs. Clinton again saying that it was up to Armenia and Turkey to continue "on the path they themselves have set," and that the United States was only acting in a supporting role.
For his part, Mr. Davutoglu reiterated that Turkey "is fully committed to normalization with Armenia and resolution of Armenian-Azeri issues."
U.S. agency cuts $67 million in Armenia funding
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) board met on June 10 and decided that it "will not resume funding for any further road construction and rehabilitation" in Armenia, the agency said in a press release.
The MCC's five-year $235 million Armenia compact originally included $67 million for road construction and repair and $146 million for agriculture projects. The latter projects have continued.
"MCC regrets that it cannot move forward with funding road construction in Armenia," the corporation's acting CEO, Rodney Bent, said in a statement. "The responsibility for this outcome remains with the government of Armenia, whose actions have been inconsistent with the eligibility criteria that are at the heart of the MCC program. I do not anticipate that the Board will revisit this issue in the future."
The agency first introduced a hold on road projects after U.S. officials blamed the Armenian government for the violence that followed last year's presidential elections.
The latest ruling comes after the May 31 election for the Yerevan city council, the conduct of which received a mixed review from observers, including criticism from the U.S. Embassy.
The MCC is chaired by the secretary of state and its decisions are influenced by State Department determinations on whether a country is making progress toward meetings eligibility criteria.
[Asked by the Armenian Reporter for comment late on June 11, the head of media relations for Armenia's Foreign Ministry, Tigran Balayan, said the ministry had been focused on a visit from the Estonian foreign minister and had no immediate comment.]
Proposed removal of U.S. trade restrictions for Azerbaijan questioned
Armenian organizations are questioning the rationale and timing for the efforts to remove Soviet-era trade sanctions against Azerbaijan – commonly referred to as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
On June 4 Reps. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) and Bill Shuster (R.-Pa.), who co-chair the Turkey and Azerbaijan caucuses, respectively, introduced House Resolution 2742 "to authorize the extension of nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of Azerbaijan," which would terminate the restriction vis-à-vis Azerbaijan. The bill has since been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Azerbaijan and all other former Soviet republics and satellite states inherited the restriction in the aftermath of the Soviet breakup. It was originally intended to promote human rights, particularly freedom of emigration. Rarely enforced, it has been a symbolic measure and successive U.S. presidents have annually waived the restriction.
Jackson-Vanik restrictions had been previously removed for former Soviet republics that joined or were about to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although Azerbaijan first applied for WTO membership in 1997, it has until now showed little interest in joining the group.
"The consideration of this ill-timed legislation would afford Members of Congress a valuable opportunity to review Azerbaijan's unacceptable behavior on a range of issues – from its arms build-up and its threats of renewed aggression against Armenia to its authoritarian political system and systematic destruction of Christian Armenian cultural heritage," Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) told the Armenian Reporter.
Ross Vartian of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC) added, "The United States cannot grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to a nation like Azerbaijan that blockades another nation, Armenia, in violation of U.S. law."
The Obama administration has not yet taken a public position on the proposed legislation.
Meanwhile, the State Department's incoming assistant secretary for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, praised Azerbaijan for "cooperating in good faith" in the Karabakh peace process and indicated that the United States would continue security assistance to Azerbaijan, the ANCA reported on June 10.
The comment came as part of Mr. Shapiro's confirmation process and was in response to questions from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) who raised the issue of Azerbaijani war threats against Armenia and continued U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan.
Pentagon’s Eurasia manager appointed
American University professor Celeste Wallander was appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia policy, the Department of Defense reported on June 9.
The new appointee is an expert on Russia and has also written on U.S. policy toward Iran. In her analyses, Ms. Wallander has sought to counter the frequently alarmist descriptions of Russia's intentions, portraying Moscow leaders as primarily pragmatic and their policies as seeking to manage rather than confront America's dominance in world affairs.
Prior to her appointment, Ms. Wallander led the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security (PONARS) that focused on the former Soviet space, particularly the Caucasus, and was first housed at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and since 2007 at Georgetown University.
Discussing last year's Russian-Georgian war, Ms. Wallander told PBS NewsHour that "in traditional security terms, the Caucasus is in a geostrategically important part of the world."
"The Caucasus is just north of Iraq and Iran," she elaborated. "It's just west of Central Asia, which involves Afghanistan. So all these regions are areas in which the United States is militarily engaged because these are where the security challenges of the 21st century are."