Kocharian Responds to US Turkey Complaints

YEREVAN–TBILISI (Armenpress–Reuters)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian Tuesday defended statemen’s made by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian last week and shrugged off US and Turkish criticism.

"We are saying that we have a legal basis for either the recognition of Karabakh’s independence–or to put forward the question–together with Karabakh–of a union between us. But we are not resorting to those steps–in hopes that peace negotiations will yield the desired results for all sides to conflict," he told a news conference–during which he discussed the State Department’s commen’s on the matter–as well as concerns expressed by Azerbaijan to visiting CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky.

"I don’t think that at Mr. Oskanian’s news conference any provocative statemen’s were made," he said. "Mr. Oskanian is only talking about the possible development of events. I would like to focus everyone’s attention to the first portion of his remarks–where he clearly calls for serious negotiations to end the conflict."

Kocharian added that if Oskanian’s statemen’s were being deemed a threat–then every time a statement is being made regarding Caspian oil developmen’s–they should be regarded as a threat from Armenia.

Armenia came under a hail of condemnation from friend and foe alike Tuesday for remarks made by Oskanian who said uniting Karabakh with Armenia would be an option if Azerbaijan did not accept compromises on halting the decade-long conflict.

This announcement was incorrectly translated by Reuters and other Western news agencies–which stated that Oskanian called for the annexation of Karabakh–a move which was not articulated by the foreign minister.

Thus Oskanian’s remarks have been deemed as a threat to peace in the region.

Reaction from Azerbaijan and its traditional ally Turkey was–predictably–very negative.

However–the United States–a friend of Armenia and one of the mediators in the Karabakh dispute–also strongly condemned Oskanian’s statement.

"With respect to that threat–we find the statement to that effect extremely disturbing," State Department spokesman James Rubin said on Monday.

"The international community must regard as unacceptable a threat by one country to annex what is universally recognized as part of another," he said.

The United States has provided more than $1 billion in aid to the tiny–mountainous country of 3.8 million–much of it coming at a critical time in 1992-93 when Armenia’said it was teetering on the brink of famine.

Armenia is one of the biggest per capita recipients of US aid–along with Israel–Egypt and Bosnia. The country’s large Diaspora also has political clout in US politics.

But the United States also has to consider Azerbaijan’s huge–largely untapped Caspian Sea oil and gas wealth.

US firms have led the way in signing contracts to help develop Azeri reserves. Total long-term pledged foreign investment stands at nearly $40 billion after President Haydar Aliyev’s government signed another three contracts this month.

Oskanian said a possible union with Karabakh was motivated by the reality that Azerbaijan had sworn to rebuild its army with petrodollars and launch a new war if peace talks failed.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Congress last week she would accelerate US efforts to achieve a peace settlement. US officials have said resolving the conflict is an important component of developing Caspian resources.

"The statement made by Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian claiming Armenia ‘does not raise the issue of Karabakh’s independence or its reunification with Armenia’ should be viewed only as the consistency of the Armenian side in defending its own position concerning the exclusion of preliminary conditions for restarting peace talks. In this case Baku will have to abandon the idea of Karabakh’s autonomy within Azerbaijan. In other words–the status of Nagorno-Karabakh can be determined as a result of negotiations only," the Karabakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.

The statement was to answer the numerous requests the ministry received by Karabakh media representatives.

"Thus–it is quite inadmissible to make a loose interpretation of what the Armenian foreign minister said and separate some of his words from the full context of his statement in which he made it clear that Nagorno-Karabakh has complete historical and legal grounds to be independent or reunite with Armenia," the Karabakh Foreign Ministry concluded.

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