Pallone Welcomes Ghoukassian Visit

* Speech on House floor highlights Azerbaijan’s Rejection of OSCE Peace Plan

WASHINGTON–Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–Co-Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus–in a speech yesterday on the House floor–welcomed Nagorno Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian to the United States and reviewed a range of foreign policy issues of concern to the Armenian American community–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

During his remarks–which took the form of a "Special Order," Representative Pallone welcomed the Karabakh president and highlighted both Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia’s acceptance–and Azerbaijan’s refusal–of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Karabakh peace plan. He also briefly outlined the President’s schedule during his trip to the United States–devoting considerable attention to the level at which President Ghoukassian was received at the State Department.

He noted–in particular–that he had joined with 19 of his colleagues in writing to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott asking that–in his capacity as the American Co-Chair of the Minsk Group–he personally meet with Mr. Ghoukassian. Rep. Pallone then went on to explain that:

"Unfortunately–Secretary Talbott was not in Washington at the time of President Ghoukassian’s visit. President Ghoukassian met instead with Donald Keyser–Special Negotiator for Nagorno Karabakh and NIS Regional Conflicts. Mr. Keyser is doing a fine job in trying to win the confidence of the parties to the conflict. But I believe it is important to stress the need for the highest-level contacts possible–which are appropriate and provide a sign of good will that would help encourage progress in the negotiations. President Ghoukassian’s status as the elected leader of one of the parties to the conflict argues in favor of according him high-level recognition. Indeed–our two Minsk Group partners–France and Russia–provide a stronger degree of recognition for the Karabakh government than the US does."

"We share Congressman Pallone’s concerns regarding the level at which President Ghoukassian was received at the State Department–particularly given Nagorno Karabakh acceptance of the OSCE peace plan and its proven willingness to work sincerely toward a negotiated settlement with Azerbaijan," said Chris Hekimian–ANCA Government Affairs Director. "As the democratically elected leader of a recognized party to the peace process – a process which the United States co-chairs – President Ghoukassian should be accorded the highest level meetings during his visits to Washington–DC."

Clinton Responds to Congressional Concerns Over Caspian Policy

On a related matter–President Clinton–writing in response to a Congressional letter initiated by Rep. Pallone–has denied that the Administration’s policy toward the states of the Caucasus and Caspian region are oil-driven.

In a February 25 letter to Congressman Pallone–the President argued that his policy’s reflect four priorities–namely 1) strengthening the viability and independence of these new states; 2) working toward resolving regional conflicts; 3) ensuring that Caspian energy development bolsters the energy security of the United States and its allies as well as the energy independence of the Caspian states–and; 4) enhancing business opportunities for US companies.

"The best evidence of the even-handed policy described in this letter by President Clinton would take the form of a concerted effort by the Administration to pressure Azerbaijan to accept the OSCE peace proposal without preconditions and to engage in direct talks with Nagorno Karabakh," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "Long-term US interests–both economic and political–will continue to suffer as long as Azerbaijan rejects the OSCE peace plan–refuses direct talks with Nagorno Karabakh–and maintains its illegal blockades against its neighbors."

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