BY DAVID STEPANYAN
YEREVAN (ArmInfo)–In an online interview organized by the “Region” Research Center, former U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Evans tells ArmInfo about the latest impulses in the Karabakh peace process, the situation and the prospects of the Iranian nuclear program, as well as Armenian-Turkish relations.
David Stepanyan: Recently, the American co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick noted that, despite the differences between the U.S. and Russia, Washington and Moscow are closely cooperating in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group to achieve progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Will you please share your view on the prospects of this cooperation?
John Evans: For many years now, the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group have cooperated very closely in an effort to find a just and lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, and this is still the case, as Ambassador Warlick has said. In my view, there is no good alternative to the Minsk Group talks as the proper forum for seeking such a solution, but success depends not so much on the mediators as on the parties themselves. It is easy to blame the mediators.
D.S.: The OSCE MG mediators expect the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with a view to preparing the next meeting of the presidents of the two countries. Do you think these meetings will once again be held to draw a tick or we should expect breakthrough proposals on Karabakh to be put on the table?
J.E.: I would not anticipate any breakthroughs at the meeting in New York, but it is a welcome sign that the two sides have not given up on finding a peaceful solution. I hope both sides, particularly Baku will show restraint. The latest incidents may grow into a serious conflict and result in resumption of full-scale military operations at any moment. A new war may be much more devastating than in the early 1990s. No one needs it, especially, the Karabakh people. There are more grounds to realize the significance of the talks within the Minsk Group and to start taking them seriously. The fact that the ceasefire violations have grown in number and that some of those violations have been registered on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border in Tavush and Nakhijevan triggers big concern.
D.S.: In his interview with ArmInfo the Armenian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shavarsh Kocharyan described the recent actions of the Turkish authorities against the Kurdish people as genocide. Will you please share your assessment of Ankara’s actions against the Kurds?
J.E.: For all who were hoping that the long-running conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish citizens had taken a decisive turn in the direction of a peaceful, political solution, the resumption of violence this summer was a grave disappointment. It was all the more disappointing in view of the apparent motivations for renewing the violence, which seem to be closely connected with the results of the June 7 election and the prospects for the next round at the beginning of November. For the moment being, I see very few prospects for improvement of Armenian-Turkish relations. From this perspective, the Protocols have obviously failed. I think they were wrong protocols and their architects sought to gain too much at once. Instead of trying to solve all the problems at once, I would like to suggest a simple step – establishing full diplomatic relations. This would ensure reliable relationship and would not be a compromise for either of the sides. I have made that proposal to the both countries’ foreign ministers in person.
D.S.: On September 17, the US Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills told the RFE/RL Armenian Service that corruption not only sets back the economic growth of the country, but also undermines national security. In particular, your successor said, “If we don’t see the Anti-Corruption Council address those things, I think it will hurt the opportunities for investment”. Does the current situation differ from the situation during the term of your diplomatic mission in Armenia and what are the prospects for improving the situation?
J.E.: There is corruption everywhere, but in Armenia I think a general lack of transparency and a perception that the courts do not deliver fair and timely justice compounds the problem. We would all like to see more American and other foreign investment in Armenia, but unfortunately there are a number of impediments, only one of which is the corruption factor.
D.S.: Recently the Minister of Agriculture of Russia Alexander Tkachev suggested destroying the “sanctioned” goods produced in the West not only within Russia but also within the Eurasian Economic Union partner-states. In other words, Russia’s retaliatory sanctions also harm Armenia. Does the United States—the main initiator of the sanctions war against Russia—take steps to compensate for the harm of this global confrontation for the partner countries?
J.E.: No one in Washington had any intention of harming Armenia when sanctions were imposed on certain individuals and companies in the Russian Federation. It would be most unfortunate if Moscow were to punish its own ally for Western sanctions.
D.S.: Do you expect any changes in the regional geopolitical configuration in the South Caucasus and in the Middle East after the lifting of sanctions against Iran?
J.E.: The Middle East is sadly undergoing a most violent and chaotic period in its history, and we need all the players to take a deep breath and look for ways to bring the fighting and the killing to an end before the region is destroyed, as several cities in Syria have been. The agreement reached with Iran by the six powers on its nuclear program is only a first step, and the U.S. sanctions, some of which go back many years, will not be lifted all at once. In the long run, I do believe that Iran must be brought back into the Middle East equation as a responsible power that contributes to stability rather than threatening to undermine it. The agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reduces the tension among the United States, Iran and Russia. Armenia benefits from it, because otherwise it might have been caught in crossfire.