Pallone Addresses Karabakh Parliament

STEPANAKERT (Noyan Tapan)–"Unfortunately–most of the countries–including the government of my country–still continue to attach greater importance to the so-called territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani Republic than the legitimate and just claims of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh for self-determination and self-rule," Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said in Stepanakert–addressing the National Assembly of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on Friday.

Describing the decision to assign 12.5 million dollars in US humanitarian aid to Nagorno Karabakh approved by the Congress and President Clinton as last year’s major achievement–Rep. Pallone voiced skepticism that "the official policies of the United States and OSCE major nations should give due backing to the just and noble demand of the Karabakh people."

He noted that US State Department officials could not conceal that Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act banning direct assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until the blockade of Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh is lifted was an obstacle in the way of developing profitable oil business in the Caspian Sea basin. According to him–large oil companies have recruited a number of influential former US government officials for lobbying their interests.

Commenting on the current state of the Karabakh negotiating process–Rep. Pallone said that the alternatives that had been offered so far were unacceptable to Nagorno-Karabakh–for they couldn’t ensure Karabakh’s security. The congressman’said his main concern was "not to allow the Minsk Group process to result in a decision foisted on the people of Karabakh." He thinks that the "phased" settlement scheme providing for withdrawal from certain occupied territories and leaving the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status unsolved will continue to make the Armenia’s of Karabakh feel insecure. He held that the Minsk Group co-chairmen’should not be in a hurry to push the decision forward but try to arrange direct talks involving all parties to the conflict without any preliminary conditions.

"My government should make a clear statement that it does not support Azerbaijan’s position for oil interests. Otherwise–Azerbaijan will continue to believe that it is winning," Rep. Pallone emphasized. The congressman hopes to succeed in convincing US politicians that "supporting the freedom of the people of Karabakh fully meets the strategic interests of the United States and the West and does not anyhow hinder the development of the Caspian oil resources–while in fact it will only better the long-term prospects of establishing peace–stability and economic integration in the region."

In a meeting with Karabakh Deputy Prime Minister Gerad Poghossian–Rep. Pallone explained that the goal of his visit was to specify for himself the position of Nagorno-Karabakh in the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations and learn the views of the Karabakh side on the role of the US in that process–as well as to examine the prospects for economic development of Nagorno-Karabakh. Rep. Pallone held that the offers by the OSCE Minsk Group regarding the settlement of the Karabakh conflict mostly met the interests of Azerbaijan.

Poghossian commented that Karabakh’s leadership would be quite satisfied if Washington officials and the OSCE Minsk Group shared Pallone’s point of view. He underlined that Karabakh had never refused to join peace talks and would never jeopardize the negotiating process. The Karabakh side rejected the offers by the Minsk Group because the ideology the settlement plan is based on does not meet the interests of the Karabakh people and provides no security–the congressman highlighted.

Rep. Pallone voiced the opinion of a number of US diplomats that protracted negotiations would be only playing into the hands of Azerbaijan. In his opinion–Azerbaijan will grow economically stronger as the talks drag on and the settlement of the conflict will have an unpleasant development for Karabakh.

Poghossian said that none of the parties was interested in dragging out the settlement process. He claimed that Nagorno-Karabakh–as well–has serious development prospects. It is currently making the transition to market economy and there is legislation regarding private and foreign investmen’s–as well as foreign trade. Also–Karabakh has great agricultural potential and is rich in natural resources.

Also addressed during the meeting was the way in which the US humanitarian aid would be utilized.

Among those in attendance at the meeting were Deputy Foreign Minister Vasiliy Atajanian–Minister of Social Security Serzh Aroushanian and Chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Foreign Affairs Boris Aroushanian.

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