Melkoumian Stresses Need for Direct Karabakh Azerbaijan Talks

Foreign Minister Naira Melkoumian–speaking at a CSIS forum WASHINGTON–During three days of high-level briefings and meetings with the State Department–lawmakers–think tanks–and the national media–Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister Naira Melkoumian expressed her government’s commitment to reaching a lasting settlement of the Karabakh conflict based on the principle of self-determination and within a framework that expects mutual and equitable concessions.

"The ANCA was pleased to do its part in providing strategic planning and logistical support for the Foreign Minister’s meetings with US government officials–members of Congress–think tanks–and the national media," said ANCA Chairman Mourad Topalian–who accompanied Melkoumian on her visitations.

"At this pivotal time for Artsakh’s future–her visit provided a critically needed opportunity for the government of Nagorno-Karabakh to deliver to the highest levels of Washington’s foreign policy community the message that a level playing field is needed for the Karabakh peace talks to succeed," added Topalian. Negotiations Must Continue On a "Level Playing Field," Stresses Melkoumian

In meetings with US policy-makers and leading members of the Washington foreign policy community–Melkoumian continually stressed Nagorno-Karabakh’s commitment to the peace process–but noted that–to be successful–the negotiations must take place on a "level playing field."

The Foreign Minister stressed this point in her March 2 address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies–a leading foreign policy think tank. Her presentation–moderated by Paige Sullivan–the Director of the CSIS Commonwealth of Independent States External Relations Projects–was attended by a capacity crowd of corporate representatives–government officials–academics–and embassy staff.

Melkoumian began her CSIS briefing by "restating Nagorno-Karabakh’s support for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe peace process and reaffirming our dedication to a negotiated settlement of a conflict that has already claimed too many lives on both sides." However–she went on to express concern that the phased approach to negotiations favored by the OSCE Minsk Group–"clearly predetermines the status of Nagorno-Karabakh," thereby calling for an "unfair and one-sided concession," at the starting point of negotiations.

"Furthermore," stated Melkoumian–"Nagorno-Karabakh must be assured an equal status in the negotiations–because–in the end–it is vital for the settlement to take place in bilateral talks between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh." Although Azerbaijan continues to refuse to participate in such face-to-face talks–Melkoumian voiced hopes that "a direct dialogue between the conflicting parties will help move the debate forward by allowing for creative approaches and adaptations of existing international principles to the realities of the post-Soviet Caucasus."

Commenting on the importance of regional cooperation and economic development–Melkoumian stressed that "Nagorno-Karabakh is fully committed to the realization of the region’s full economic potential. We recognize that our fate is tied to the rest of the Caucasus and that the stability created by a durable peace agreement represents our best hope for integration into the world economy."

During a press conference at the Washington headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty–Melkoumian explained that stability in the Caucasus will lead to overall economic development in the region. She explained that Nagorno-Karabakh can play the role of a bridge between Armenia and Azerbaijan–helping to reconcile differences between these two countries. Melkoumian also met separately with the Washington Post–the Financial Times–the Washington Times–and the Interfax news agency.

Melkoumian held a private briefing for foreign policy experts at the Heritage Foundation–an influential conservative public policy organization. Melkoumian Urges Key Members Of Congress to Expand US Aid to Karabakh

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister also met with leading members of Congress involved in appropriating foreign aid to Nagorno-Karabakh. Among these were members of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee–including Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.); Ranking Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)–and; Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.)–the architect of the $12.5 million US assistance package to Karabakh. During each of these meetings–Melkoumian stressed the importance of continued US assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh–noting that–prior to fiscal year 1998–the people of Karabakh were the only population in the Caucasus not provided any US assistance. Melkoumian explained that the $12.5 million US allocation for Nagorno-Karabakh by Congress reflects a willingness on the part of the United States to act as an impartial mediator in the peace process.

During a meeting of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee less than 24 hours after they had met with the Melkoumian–all three of these Representatives pressed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for answers about the need for US aid to Karabakh and the status of the US ban on aid to Azerbaijan. Melkoumian Briefs Congressional Armenian Caucus

In addition to individual Congressional meetings Melkoumian appeared before the Congressional Armenian Caucus at the invitation of Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and John Edward Porter (R-Ill). In his remarks welcoming her to the Caucus–Congressman Pallone explained that he has had "some differences with the State Department over our negotiating position–and I have made those disagreemen’s known. Basically any agreement that forces Karabakh to compromise on the issue of self-determination and fails to provide iron-clad security guarantees is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned."

The New Jersey legislator stressed the importance of the Foreign Minister’s visit–particularly in terms of countering the many misconceptions about the Karabakh conflict that are being advanced through the media by Azeri and oil company lobbyists.

California Democrat and International Relations Committee member Brad Sherman explained to Foreign Minister Melkoumian during the March 4 briefing that the Armenian American community plays a critical role in ensuring that the United States acts as a neutral mediator to the conflict.

The following day–Rep. Sherman raised the issue of aid to Nagorno-Karabakh with US Agency for International Development Administrator Brian Atwood during his appearance before the International Relations Committee.

The California lawmaker stressed that the $12.5 million appropriated for Karabakh should be delivered to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh as quickly and efficiently as possible.

He also asked for clarification regarding recent reports that the Administration intends to divert portions of this appropriation away from Karabakh. Atwood responded that USAID was currently in the process of sending the first $1 million in US assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Melkoumian also met with Armenian Genocide Resolution co-authors George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.)–and International Relations Committee member Steve Rothman (D-NJ). On the Senate side–the Foreign Minister met with Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed–who visited Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh last year. Melkoumian Meets with Armenian American Communities in Eastern US

While in Washington–in addition to meetings with foreign policy leaders and the media–Melkoumian spoke to the local Armenian American community–just as she had in Los Angeles–Boston–New York–and the other cities she has visited during her stay in the United States. She was the featured speaker at a series of commemorations celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Karabakh Democracy and Self-Determination Movement. Speaking to capacity crowds in each city–Melkoumian expressed appreciation for the continued support of the Armenian American community–provided updates on the peace negotiations–and fielded questions.

The Foreign Minister met with a group of 25 Armenian American community leaders at a reception held at the Armenian Embassy in Washington. Among those in attendance were representatives of the ANCA–Armenian Revolutionary Federation–Armenian Assembly of America–Armenian General Benevolent Union–Armenian Relief Society–Armenian Prelacy–and the Armenian Diocese.

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