ANCA Calls NSA to Propose Fair Starting Point for Peace Talks

WASHINGTON–Responding to recent statemen’s by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger–the Armenian National Committee of America Thursday called upon the Administration to propose a fair starting point which will move the Nagorno Karabakh peace process forward.

The ANCA’s commen’s come in response to statemen’s made by Berger in a March 4 letter to Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). In his letter–Berger rejected Rep. Pallone’s concern that the Administration’s Karabakh policy favors Azerbaijan. He credited Azerbaijan with having agreed to participate in peace talks–while charging that Nagorno-Karabakh is to blame for the current impasse because it has "rejected negotiations–imposing pre-conditions on its participation."

The ANCA–in a letter to the National Security Advisor–pointed out that "in a meeting last week with the State Department–Nagorno-Karabakh’s Foreign Minister reaffirmed Karabakh’s readiness to negotiate within a balanced framework that does not predetermine the terms of a final settlement. The fact of the matter–however–is that the starting point for negotiations offered by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs was heavily biased in favor of the Azeri position and–therefore–failed to satisfy basic standards of impartiality…Armenian-Americans strongly support the people of Karabakh in their quest for peace. We urge the Administration to take the lead in the Minsk Group by putting forward a fair and unbiased starting point for talks which will allow the peace process to move forward."

In his February 5 letter to Berger–Rep. Pallone had voiced serious concerns about the tenuous state of the cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Karabakh–the lack of security guarantees for the people of Karabakh–and the need to encourage direct negotiations without preconditions between Azerbaijan and Karabakh. Rep. Pallone outlined in the letter the findings of his recent trip to Armenia and Karabakh–and recounted how his delegation had been fired upon by Azeri forces.

Berger’s charge that Nagorno-Karabakh has "rejected" negotiations stand in stark contrast to statemen’s by Nagorno- Karabakh’s Foreign Minister Naira Melkoumian during her recent meetings in Washington with the State Department–Congress–think tanks and the media.

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies–she restated "Karabakh’s support for the OSCE peace process and reaffirmed its dedication to a negotiated settlement." She stressed that the compromises Karabakh is being asked to make "must take place within the context of people’s right to self-determination and within an equitable negotiation framework that requires balanced concessions by both parties."

Foreign Minister Melkoumian’s statemen’s in support of the peace process during her recent trip to Washington were reported internationally. Writing in the March 6 Washington Times–correspondent Martin Sieff reported that Melkoumian is committed to strengthening the current cease-fire with Azerbaijan. He quoted Melkoumian as stating that "the Karabakh side would like to sign an agreement with regard to the [1994] cease-fire. [But] it is the Azeri side that is refusing to sign."

Platt’s Oilgram News–an influential energy industry publication–reported that Melkoumian believes that "a negotiated settlement represents the best option for the peoples of Azerbaijan and Nagorno- Karabakh to reach peace; given our regional responsibilities–I would say the only option." During a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty briefing–Melkoumian explained that a long term solution will involve "equivalent concessions" by all sides to the Karabakh conflict. The Russian Interfax news agency provided coverage of the Foreign Minister’s meeting with members of Congress.

Text of Sandy Berger’s Letter to Rep. Frank Pallone

Dear Representative Pallone:

Thank you for your letter communicating the results of your most recent visit to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. I noted your concerns that US participation in a Minsk Group policy seeks to impose unacceptable conditions upon the parties.

I would like to assure you that neither the Minsk Group nor its US Co-chair wishes to impose a solution on any of the parties–Armenia–Nagorno-Karabakh or Azerbaijan. The United States–along with the Russian and French Co-chairs–has been active in seeking to facilitate negotiations in which the parties will freely advance their interests and reach a settlement among themselves. Our efforts are designed to produce the direct negotiations of which you speak – negotiations to separate and withdraw forces–to allow displaced persons to return to their homes–to open borders and communications and to provide strong security guarantees for Nagorno-Karabakh with a direct land link to Armenia. These steps would erase military–political or economic pressures for all sides–especially Nagorno-Karabakh–and would thus set the stage for meaningful negotiations on a mutually acceptable status.

Azerbaijan has agreed to negotiations and has imposed no preconditions. Armenia earlier agreed to these negotiations–but that position may be reviewed following the elections necessitated by the resignation of President Ter-Petrosyan. Nagorno-Karabakh has to date rejected negotiations–imposing preconditions on its participation. It is important to get talks moving without conditions that would make impossible progress on the economic and security issues that are vital for the welfare of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh–Armenia–Azerbaijan and the region as a whole.

Your suggestions regarding international enforcement and security guarantees are all part of the proposed Agreement that is on the table. However–reference to the occupied territories as "the factors that enhance Nagorno-Karabakh’s bargaining position" is troubling. The United States and the OSCE cannot look upon the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes as a legitimate bargaining chip. We have pointed out to the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities that their continued occupation of territory which they readily admit belongs to Azerbaijan–despite the mandates of four United Nations Security Council resolutions–is neither a bargaining advantage nor a position we can support. In fact–it erodes the appeal to fairness and justice that Nagorno-Karabakh insists must be upheld.

I welcome your interest in the welfare and stability of the Caucasus region and encourage you to continue your dialogue with Special Negotiator Lynn Pascoe. I can assure you that this Administration will continue its efforts to find a solution that will be acceptable to all sides.

Thank you again for writing me on this very important issue.

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