Pallone Criticizes State Dept. “Tilt Toward Azerbaijan”

"The key to any kind of movement to a political settlement [for Karabakh] is basically for the US to take the lead but to decouple our interests in the oil of Baku from Karabakh’s self-determination."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

WASHINGTON–DC — Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–criticized the State Department today for its "tilt toward Azerbaijan" in the Karabakh peace process–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

Speaking at a briefing on Capitol Hill organized by the Armenian Caucus–Rep. Pallone–who recently returned from a five-day trip to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh–indicated that he was troubled by the current state of the negotiations and concerned by what he perceives as a tilt toward Azerbaijan on the part of the United States. Referring to lengthy discussions he held in Stepanakert with officials of the Karabakh government–Rep. Pallone explained:

"We talked about the Minsk Group and the recent pronouncement from Lisbon–which stressed the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and didn’t even mention the self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh the feeling was that the US quest to be co-chair of the Minsk Group was a positive thing because the only way that a Karabakh political settlement could be achieved is if the US got involved and basically pushed for it. So–therefore they like the idea of the US taking a lead. On the other hand–they don’t like the US position which they–and I–feel clearly tilts toward Azerbaijan. We signed this Lisbon pronouncement which doesn’t event mention self-determination. Every public pronouncement that I see — no offense to the State Department — is pretty much the Azeri line–which is not acceptable to me or to them."

Rep. Pallone went on to advocate a US policy which would respect the right to self-determination of the people of Nagorno- Karabakh while still taking into consideration US oil interests in the region. He explained that: "…the key to any kind of movement on a political settlement is basically for the US to take the lead but to couple our interests in the oil of Baku from Karabakh’s self-determination. You know the US can develop the oil resources because nobody else is going to be able to do it anyway. We can do that and we can take the upper hand in that… and at the same time say "that’s fine–but we want Karabakh to have its self-determination and we want a political settlement that is acceptable to the government of Karabakh. I’m not going to predetermine what that would be. I would say–I can’t imagine a situation where Azerbaijan has any kind of authority at all. So my view would be that it has to be a completely independent state or it has to be part of Armenia. The main thing is that it has to be something that the Karabakhtsis agree on and not something that is just imposed on them like these pronouncemen’s that are coming from Lisbon. That’s just not acceptable."

"The Armenian-American community deeply appreciates Congressman Pallone’s principled stand in support of Nagorno- Karabakh’s right to self-determination within secure borders," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA.

"We look forward to working closely with the Congressman during the coming year to mobilize the broad–bipartisan Congressional opposition to the State Department’s misguided effort to impose a solution to this conflict which does not respect Karabakh’s inalienable rights and which places its population at risk of genocide."

Congressman Pallone (D-NJ) was joined during the briefing by Anne Huiskes–Congressman Frank Wolf’s (R-Va.) legislative aide–and Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Rouben Shugarian.

Huiskes–who had traveled to the Caucasus with Rep. Pallone–said that she was "particularly impressed by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh," noting that "It sort of brought a smile to my face. Despite all the things that they had gone through and all the war and the devastation–and living with shelling and things of that nature–there seemed to be a good spirit about them – almost like a smile on their faces like `we are going to get though this no matter what.’ It was very heart-warming. And it just seemed like they were content — there was a resilience there that was very impressive."

Future Priorities of the Caucus on Armenian Issues

Rep. Pallone also discussed the future priorities of the Caucus which he listed as follows:

  • Continued humanitarian assistance to Armenia–at least at current levels.
  • Direct US assistance for Nagorno- Karabakh.
  • Completion of the transition from humanitarian assistance to economic and developmental aid.
  • Increased American investment into Armenia.
  • Pressure on Azerbaijan to lift its blockades and strict enforcement of the ban on US aid to Azerbaijan.
  • Enforcement of the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act sanction against Turkey.
  • Direct involvement by President Clinton and the US government in a settlement for the Karabakh
  • conflict–while preventing a "tilt towards Azerbaijan."
  • Linkage of the Turkish government’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide to the level of US
  • aid sent to Turkey.

The briefing was well attended by State Department officials–the Congressional Research Service–Congressional staff–Radio Free Europe correspondents–Armenian Embassy officials and Armenian-Americans from the Greater Washington area.

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