Access to Power: Pence Calls Sarkisian; Erdogan & Aliyev Call Trump

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

Shortly after the November 8 elections, I wrote a column suggesting that Armenian-Americans make every effort to contact President-elect Trump or his aides before the January 20 Presidential inauguration, after which it would be much more difficult to have access to the President.

I am happy to report that one such successful connection was made last month by the joint efforts of Armenia’s Ambassador to Washington, Grigor Hovhannissian, and President of Prime Health Care, Mike Sarian of Glendale, California, who has extensive contacts with high-ranking Republicans.

As a result, Vice President-elect Mike Pence called President Serzh Sarkisian on December 1 to thank him for his earlier congratulatory letter to President-elect Trump. According to the Armenian President’s website, Pence and Sarkisian stressed the importance of expanding political and economic relations between Armenia and the United States. “President Sarkisian and Vice President-elect Mike Pence discussed also issues of mutual interest, including regional problems and challenges.”

The Armenian President’s website drew special attention to the fact that the Pence-Sarkisian “phone call was initiated by the American side.” In contrast, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev and Turkey’s President Erdogan were the ones calling Trump on November 9 and 17 respectively, making Vice President-elect Pence’s call to Sarkisian politically more valuable! Trump may have asked Pence to make the call to Sarkisian due to his familiarity with Armenian issues during his 10-year tenure in the House of Representatives. As a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Pence voted for a Congressional Resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide in 2005, but voted against similar resolutions in 2007 and 2010, expressing concern for the possible fallout on US-Turkey relations.

Erdogan’s and Aliyev’s other disadvantage was that their phone calls to Trump were most probably arranged through hired multi-million dollar public relations and lobbying firms in Washington, whereas Armenia did not have to spend a penny for the Pence-Sarkisian phone conversation. This successful access to the newly-elected Trump Administration confirms the importance of getting involved in American political life, so that when the need arises, such arrangements can be made with relative ease.

Furthermore, the phone calls between Trump and leaders of several countries, including those of Taiwan, Turkey and Pakistan, came under intense scrutiny by the U.S. media. China’s leaders were upset that Trump spoke with the President of Taiwan. No U.S. President or President-elect has done so since 1979, due to the U.S. “One China” policy which recognizes Taiwan as part of the People Republic of China.

The controversy regarding Turkey involves Ivanka Trump’s participation in her father’s phone conversation with Erdogan which some view as a conflict of interest. Ivanka was closely involved with the Trump Towers project in Istanbul and Turkish business partner Mehmet Ali Yalcindag. She attended the 2012 opening celebration of Trump Towers in Istanbul. During the phone call, Trump told Erdogan that he and Ivanka admire him and Yalcindag. Trump’s lavish words were intended to relieve the irritation caused by his earlier announced plans to ban all Muslim immigrants. In response, Erdogan had demanded that Trump’s name be removed from the Istanbul Towers.

Another controversial phone call was the one Trump made to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Trump was quoted as heaping lavish praise on Pakistan, its people and culture which drew a harsh response from India, an important U.S. ally and Pakistan’s archenemy. In contrast, back in 2012, Trump had tweeted: “Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect — and much worse. #TimeToGetTough.”

Finally, readers may recall that in my last week’s column I had commended the Armenian government for blocking Pakistan’s request for Observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), due to Pakistan’s pro-Azerbaijan, pro-Turkey, anti-Armenia, and anti-Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) policies. The Turkish media disseminated my column, although mistakenly attributing to the Armenian government my four suggestions to counter Pakistan at the UN, US Congress, Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and support India in the Kashmir conflict with Pakistan.

Armenian-Americans should continue their efforts to cultivate good relations with the Trump Administration and Members of Congress in order to counter all anti-Armenian attempts by Azerbaijan, Turkey and their high-priced lobbying firms in Washington!

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