Pallone Decries Efforts to Impose Conflict Settlement

WASHINGTON–In a speech Tuesday night on the floor of the House of Representatives–Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spoke out against State Department efforts to impose a quick settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Below are excerpts from Rep. Pallone’s:

During my visit to the region last month–it was apparent that differences on how to address the situation in Nagorno Karabakh were causing deep divisions among the various political factions within Armenia. Yet despite the differences over strategy–the basic goal is clear. The Armenia’s of Karabakh fought off aggression to protect their homeland. All Armenia’s–in Karabakh–in the Republic of Armenia–and Armenian-Americans–will not stand idly by and allow for the people of Karabakh to lose their hard-fought independence. They will not accept any settlement that compromises the security and self-determination of Karabakh.

Which brings me–Mr. Speaker–to the issue that I had planned to talk about before today’s dramatic political developmen’s happened. On both of my visits to Nagorno Karabakh–I have had the privilege of addressing the Karabakh Parliament–and I believe I am the only member of Congress to do so–although I know several of my colleagues in this Body have visited Karabakh. I have met with the various civilian and military leaders of Karabakh. On my recent trip–I had the opportunity to go to the front lines in the tense stand-off between the Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces.

The conflict over Nagorno Karabakh has become a diplomatic priority for the United States. A special US negotiator for the region has been appointed–and the United States is a co-chair–along with France and Russia–of the so-called Minsk Group–the Conference of the OSCE–commonly known as the Helsinki Commission – charged with resolving the Karabakh conflict.

Mr. Speaker–I am sorry to say–I am not pleased with the way these negotiations are going–and I believe that our own US foreign policy is pushing Armenia and Karabakh into accepting proposals that are unacceptable.

My primary concerns have always been to promote a lasting peace–guarantee the right of self-determination and maintain a long-term US engagement with all the nations of the Caucasus region. I have been particularly concerned that the Minsk Group process not result in a settlement being imposed upon the people of Karabakh.

In light of my second visit to the region–in which I had the opportunity to inspect front-line areas–as well as to meet with civilian and military officials in Stepanakert–it is now clear to me that the top priority in the negotiations must be better enforcement of the cease fire. This point was brought home to me in a very powerful way during a front-lines tour–when the delegation of military officials I was traveling with were fired upon by Azeri forces. The members of my party indicated to me that the incident was fairly commonplace.

It is abundantly evident that the cease fire is shaky at best. I believe the Minsk Group negotiations address the following objectives: establish a separation of the Karabakh and Azeri forces by at least one kilometer; and–that an international observer force be put in place to monitor the separation of the parties.

The peace process should also set as a priority direct negotiations without preconditions between all sides. As is abundantly clear to anyone who has visited or simply read about this conflict–it pits forces from Karabakh against forces from Azerbaijan. While the good offices of the United States–France and Russia can be helpful in facilitating the negotiations–only direct talks between the two warring parties will finally resolve the conflict and establish the confidence-building measures that will help build a lasting peace.

Finally–the issue of security guarantees for the people of Karabakh must be addressed. It is my opinion that a phased approach for withdrawal from certain territories while leaving the crucial issue of status unresolved–as the Minsk Group–including the US–is proposing–will continue to cause the Karabakh Armenia’s to feel insecure. The people of Karabakh are not about to negotiate the very factors that enhance their bargaining position–the occupied areas–without ironclad provisions governing their status and a clearly stated mandate for safeguarding the security of a future status arrangement. Direct negotiations between the parties would improve the chances of achieving an agreement that leaves the people of Karabakh with a sense that their security needs will be addressed.

Mr. Speaker–as the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–I have been pleased to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to help the people of Armenia and Karabakh. Late last year–just before adjournment–Members of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee succeeded in approving–for the first time–direct US humanitarian aid to Karabakh. I am concerned–however–that not all of the relatively modest amount of $12.5 million will even get to the people in Karabakh who need the assistance. I will continue to monitor closely the provision of aid to Karabakh–as–I am sure–will many of my colleagues.

And–as of yesterday–we are beginning the FY 99 budget process. I am sure that the pro-Armenia forces of this Congress will again work together to show our support for the people of Armenia and Karabakh. And we will continue to urge our State Department to pursue policies in the Caucasus region that will promote peace and stability–while recognizing the precious value of self-determination for the people of Karabakh.

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