Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Iran aftermath, Kremlin summit prep., Congress on slavery and foreign aid

This was first published in June 27, 2009 issue of the Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama condemns crackdown in Iran, but says he “respects its sovereignty”

Khamenei (on left) and Rafsanjani

As the crackdown on antigovernment protestors intensified in Iran, President Barack Obama condemned Tehran, but insisted that "the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran" and that it was up to Iranians to determine their future.

In Tehran, security forces appeared to have regained control of the streets, after using tear gas and occasionally live ammunition to disperse demonstrations that have continued virtually nonstop since the June 12 presidential election. At least 17 people have died in the process and thousands, including dozens of intellectuals and journalists, are believed to have been jailed.

The post-election standoff in Iran pitted two groups with roots in the 1979 revolution against each other, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on one side, and two ex-presidents, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, and former prime minister and the main election challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi on the other.

The election results, rejected by the opposition, have been formally endorsed by Iran's Guardians' Council, confirming that the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad camp has been able to retain the upper hand inside the political establishment.

Ahead of Moscow summit, U.S. reasserts role in ex-USSR

As President Obama readied for talks with Russian leaders early next month, the United States held "strategic partnership" talks with Georgia and succeeded in having Kyrgyzstan reverse its decision to close the U.S. air base on its soil.

U.S.-Russia talks slated for July 6-8 are expected to focus on a new nuclear disarmament treaty, as well as international concerns about Iran and North Korea. But according to media commentary, recurring disagreements over former Soviet republics, which the Kremlin has declared an area of its "privileged interests," are likely to continue to provide fodder for tension.

In recent weeks, Russia and the West disagreed on international monitoring in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia recognized as independent from Georgia. Talks on the status of two entities have come to an impasse.

On June 22 Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg reaffirmed "strong support for Georgia's independence and territorial integrity" in talks with visiting Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze. Bilateral talks followed up on the Strategic Partnership Charter signed last January under the Bush administration.

Following the talks, Mr. Steinberg noted that the United States is proving Georgia with $1 billion in aid in the aftermath of the war with Russia and promised continued support for the Georgian military.

And in Kyrgyzstan, the United States succeeded in getting Bishkek to reverse its decision earlier this year to close an air base used for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. According to media reports, the United States promised to triple the rent paid for Manas air base, while also overlooking the incumbent president's crackdown on the opposition ahead of elections next month.

A century and a half later, Congress apologizes for slavery

Both houses of Congress have now passed resolutions apologizing for past treatment of African-Americans, including slavery and segregation. The Senate voted unanimously to do so on June 18; the House of Representatives had done so in July 2008, U.S. media reported.

The move was praised by President Barack Obama, but received largely low-key and mixed reactions around the United States. Critics particularly pointed to a clause that suggested that the apology should not be used in support of claims of restitution.

The Senate resolution was co-sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa) and Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) The efforts in the House are led by Rep. Steve Cohen (D.-Tenn.), who has expressed vociferous opposition to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

According to Mother Jones magazine, in 1988 the United States apologized and offered compensation to Japanese-Americans for internments during World War II. In 2005, the House, and in 2008, the Senate voted to apologize to Native Americans "for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect" inflicted against them by the United States.

Last April, President Obama indicated that the United States might apologize for some of its past policies in Latin America, where Washington had been accused of organizing coups and assassinations.

Foreign aid bill endorsed by House Appropriations Committee

Legislation that sets out foreign-aid allocations and was passed in the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee on June 17 was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on June 23.

The Fiscal Year 2010 allocations approved last week included $48 million in aid to Armenia, $10 million to Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as $3.45 million each in military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Additionally, according to the text of the legislation made available by the Armenian Assembly, it "directs that the Department of State consult with the Committees on Appropriations before exercising [Section 907] waiver for fiscal year 2010 to ensure that all conditions under the waiver provision are being fully met."

Section 907 has restricted U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan since 1993, but after September 11, 2001, the president received conditional authority to waive the measure.

The committee language also noted that "Section 907 is still in effect, pending a settlement of the ongoing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh."

After adoption in the full House of Representatives, the measure would need to be reconciled with the Senate version, which is yet to be produced.

Coming up:

On June 28-29, Israeli president Shimon Peres will visit Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

On July 6-8, 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.

And on July 20-24, Vice President Joe Biden will visit Ukraine and Georgia.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has postponed his anticipated trip to the Caucasus and Kazakhstan.

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