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Clinton Discusses Karabakh, Turkey With Nalbandian


U.S. -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) with her Armenia counterpart Eduard Nalbandian in Washington, DC, 05May2009

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian in Washington on Tuesday for talks that reportedly focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and Armenia’s ongoing dialogue with Turkey.

Underscoring renewed U.S. hopes for a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, Clinton also held a separate meeting with her Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, later in the day.

“The relationship between the United States and Armenia is a very lasting and durable one,” Clinton said as she greeted Nalbandian. “The Obama Administration is committed to broadening it, deepening it, working with Armenia to assist them in their continued development and aspirations.

“Our meeting is a good opportunity to move forward our bilateral agenda and to discuss a wide range of issues,” responded Nalbandian. “We are determined to strengthen, to deepen, to enhance our friendly partnership with the United States.”

Neither official made public statements after the meeting. A spokesman for the State Department, Robert Wood, indicated that it was dominated by the Karabakh peace process and Turkish-Armenian relations.

“It was a very, very good meeting and constructive,” Wood told a daily news briefing in Washington. “We have a lot of interests with Armenia, and we look forward to improving and strengthening the bilateral relationship as we go forward.”

According the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Clinton and Nalbandian specifically discussed Thursday’s meeting in Prague between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hope that the two leaders will further narrow their remaining differences over a framework peace accord put forward by the mediators in November 2007.

A ministry statement quoted Clinton as saying that she will continue to lend “full support” to the conflicting parties in their efforts to work out a compromise solution to the Karabakh dispute. It said Clinton also pledged continued U.S. support for Armenia’s and Turkey’s efforts to normalize bilateral relations and again described as “historic” a fence-mending “roadmap” announced by the two governments on April 22.

With both Ankara and Yerevan remaining tight-lipped about details of the agreement, it remains unclear whether it commits Turkey to establishing diplomatic relations and reopening its border with Armenia before the Karabakh conflict is resolved. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Ghazinian said on Wednesday that the roadmap will be made public only “after the document is ready.” She told journalists that Turkish-Armenian talks are still going on.

President Serzh Sarkisian is expected to also meet his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Prague that starts on Thursday.

According to the Foreign Ministry statement, Yerevan’s overtures to Ankara were also praised by James Jones, U.S. President Barack Obama’s top national security adviser. Jones met with Nalbandian later on Tuesday.

Reaction to the Turkish-Armenian “roadmap” agreement, reportedly brokered by Washington, within Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora has been more negative. Many political groups there feel that the deal enabled Obama to backtrack on his election campaign pledge to describe the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide once in office.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential nationalist party with strong branches in the Diaspora, pulled out of Sarkisian’s coalition government last week in protest against the deal. Dashnaktsutyun leaders believe that Sarkisian has complicated greater international recognition of the genocide and made other concessions to the Turks without securing the lifting of the 16-year Turkish blockade of Armenia.

This view is essentially shared by Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. Addressing thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Friday, Ter-Petrosian charged that Sarkisian has “sold out” the memory of more than one million Armenians slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks “for the sake of prolonging his rule.”

Vartan Oskanian, Armenia’s former longtime foreign minister, joined in the chorus of criticism with a newspaper article published on Saturday. He condemned the timing of the Turkish-Armenian statement as “incomprehensible and unacceptable.” “Turkey can now act the way it wants to,” Oskanian wrote in the “168 Zham” newspaper. “It already has Armenia’s public consent over the basic bilateral issues and will decide at will when to open the border and on what terms.”

In a memo sent to its members across the United States, the Dashnaktsutyun-linked Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) expressed concern about Nalbandian’s trip to Washington. “Overall, we are concerned that this PR offensive is designed to consolidate the defeatist agreements reached recently between Armenia and Turkey, and to help the Armenian government repair its image following the recent 'roadmap' declaration,” the ANCA said.

The influential lobbying group urged ANCA activists to contact the Armenian embassy in Washington and denounce a government that “can forget so easily
about our lost lives and lands.”

Diplomatic sources told RFE/RL that ANCA representatives boycotted Nalbandian’s meeting in Washington with leaders of the Armenian-American community. But representatives of another major advocacy group, the Armenian Assembly of America, were in attendance.

Unlike the ANCA, the Assembly welcomed the announcement of the Turkish-Armenian “roadmap.” But it was just as critical of Obama’s failure to use the word genocide in a statement issued two days later, during the annual commemoration of genocide victims.

“It was a regrettable retreat from the expressed promises you made as a candidate,” the Assembly chairman, Hirair Hovnanian, wrote to Obama last week. Hovnanian said the Armenian-American community will now redouble its efforts to push an Armenian genocide resolution through the U.S. Congress and urged the president to assist in its “prompt passage.”

The two main co-sponsors of the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives, Democrat Frank Pallone and Republican Mark Kirk, met with Nalbandian on Monday. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian briefed them on “the latest developments in the process of the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.” It did not specify whether they discussed the draft genocide resolution.

Nalbandian last week described Obama’s carefully worded April 24 message as a “step forward from relevant statements made by other U.S. presidents.” Both he and President Sarkisian have said that despite the rapprochement with Ankara, Yerevan will continue to back genocide recognition efforts spearheaded by the Diaspora.
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