Friday, August 14, 2009

World leaders talk Armenian business, Obama in Kremlin, U.S. aid to Armenia

This was first published in July 11, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Armenian issues get high-level attention at G8 summit and in phone conversations

G8 summit host Silvio Berlusconi gesturing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Indian, U.S., British, French, and Canadian leaders looking on, July 9, 2009.

WASHINGTON - The presidents of France, Russia, and the United States were expected to issue a joint statement on Karabakh during the G8 summit of the world's leading economies being held on July 8-10 in Italy.

"There are ongoing consultations on the form of the statement on Nagorno-Karabakh; the content of the statement has already been agreed upon," Russian presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency after the first day of the summit.

The last time a statement on Karabakh was issued in such a high-level format was in June 1997 during G8 summit in Denver, Colorado.

President Barack Obama heard about Karabakh and Turkish-Armenian relations from his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül in a July 5 phone conversation, according to the White House readout of the call made available the same day.

According to the readout, "President Gul updated President Obama on the status of Turkish-Armenian relations. They also discussed the Minsk Group's ongoing efforts to address [the] Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," in addition to other issues on bilateral agenda.

On July 3, the Turkish president also called his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

According to Azerbaijani media reports, Mr. Gül's calls were intended in part to put the Karabakh issue on the U.S.-Russia agenda ahead of the July 6-8 bilateral and subsequent G8 summit.

While it is unclear whether the issue was discussed at the presidential level, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, "the prospects of progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement" did come up during a July 7 meeting between Undersecretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigori Karasin.

U.S., Russia agree on Afghanistan transit, disagree on Georgia

Russia will allow the United States to transit supplies for U.S. and coalition forces via Russian territory, news agencies reported. The agreement was made public as President Barack Obama was hosted for a working visit to Moscow on July 6-8 that was supposed to "reset" bilateral relations that have long been troubled by tensions.

The Russian move came shortly after the United States succeeded in reversing a decision by Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S.-run air base in that Central Asian country. Kyrgyzstan announced the closure earlier this year, when Russia offered a substantial aid package to the country.

To secure the reversal, the U.S. government agreed to triple the base rent to $60 million a year and provide additional aid to the Kyrgyz government despite its increasingly authoritarian policies.

Following the Moscow meetings, no agreements were reported on a series of contentious issues such as U.S. plans for missile defense in Central Europe and NATO expansion into the former USSR, both strongly opposed by Russia, which sees them as undermining its interests.

"We're not going to reassure or trade or give anything to the Russians with regard to NATO expansion," Michael McFaul, the White House senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs, said on July 1, on the eve of the visit. "We are not in any way, in the name of the reset, abandoning our very close relationships with these two democracies, Ukraine and Georgia."

Speaking in Moscow, President Obama also underscored continued U.S. support for Georgia and Ukraine, saying that they and "all states should have the right to choose their leaders, have the right to borders that are secure, and to their own foreign policies.

"Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy," Mr. Obama warned.

Separately, U.S. and Russian leaders also agreed to continue to reduce stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons when the existing disarmament regime expires later this year.

U.S. praised for aiding Armenia

President Serge Sargsian on July 7 visited the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to offer congratulations on the occasion of America's Independence Day. He reiterated Armenia's interest in cooperation, the president's press office reported.

"We view America not only as a powerful state, not only as Armenia's largest donor of humanitarian assistance, but also as a state which lent support to our people in the direst times of our history, opened itself for a great number of our people, provided with the opportunity to advance and bring their contribution to the empowerment of the United States - preserving at the same time their national identity," Mr. Sargsian was quoted as saying during the embassy visit.

[Speaking at a reception later that day at the Embassy, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was more explicit, noting that the United States let support to the Armenian people during the Genocide. -Ed.]

According to the presidential press service, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in turn shared her impressions from the two-week tour of Armenian American communities she just completed.

Since his election last year, Mr. Sargsian resumed the tradition of visiting the U.S. Embassy around the Fourth of July. The practice was first introduced under President Levon Ter-Petrossian, but was interrupted after U.S. criticism of Mr. Ter-Petrossian's re-election in 1996. It was then resumed under President Robert Kocharian, only to be interrupted again after U.S. criticism of his re-election in 2003.

U.S. official: “Democratic reforms” may lead to more rural aid

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza this week suggested that the recent amnesty of most Armenian opposition activists held in connection with deadly clashes on March 1, 2008, was a welcome, but insufficient step.

"There were these releases that we've asked for quite some time. It's positive," Mr. Bryza was quoted by the RFE/RL Armenian Service as saying during a July 8 visit to Yerevan in his capacity as U.S. envoy for the Karabakh conflict. "We welcome that and at the same time we hope there will be more. We hope they will all be released."

Mr. Bryza also connected the recent cut in Millennium Challenge aid to Armenia to the handling of Yerevan City Council elections, which he criticized, and said there was a need for "re-energizing of democratic reforms" in Armenia.

"We are willing to work with the government of Armenia, as these other reforms go forward, to find additional money," he offered. "Maybe not in the Millennium Challenge Corporation but elsewhere, so that these people in rural areas, who are suffering sometimes from poverty, have an easier life."

Senate committee endorses administration’s Armenia aid reduction
Figures to be reconciled with House version
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Thursday July 09, 2009

- The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 9 approved a $51.23 billion foreign aid bill for Fiscal Year 2010, including $745 million in assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia, the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.), who chairs the Senate's foreign operations subcommittee, reported the same day.

As part of the bill, senators endorsed President Barack Obama's request for $30 million for Armenia and no funds set aside for Nagorno-Karabakh. The president's request had been criticized by Armenian-American groups and congressional friends as inadequate.

The Senate subcommittee includes Sens. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.), Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) and Barbara Mikulski (D.-Md.) all of whom have been supportive of Armenian-American issues.

Separately, the House of Representatives was expected to pass before the end of the week its version of the foreign aid bill that includes $48 million for Armenia, $10 million for Nagorno-Karabakh, and $3.5 million each in military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The two versions will next need to be reconciled by a committee of Senate and House negotiators before the bill can be signed into law by the president.

Asked by the Armenian Reporter for comment, Ross Vartian of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee said, "USAPAC is disappointed with the Senate version and will actively support the House version in the Senate-House conference process."

Earlier this year, the co-chairs of the congressional Armenian Caucus recommended $75 million in aid to Armenia and $10 million to Nagorno-Karabakh. They also called for strengthening of Section 907, which provides oversight for U.S. aid to Azerbaijan; that provision was adopted by House appropriators.

In a news release, the Armenian Assembly cited congressional sources that anticipated that the Senate version of the foreign-aid bill would also include language strengthening congressional oversight over a presidential waiver of Section 907, and provide equal amounts of military aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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