Pallone Views Caucasus Trip as A Step Forward in Peace Process

*Joins with Reps. Morella–Hinchey–Capuano–and Woolsey in praising Armenia and Karabakh for supporting the OSCE peace process.

WASHINGTON–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has reported that the recent Congressional delegation to Armenia–Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan "helped to generate added momentum for a negotiated settlement [of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict] that could open up avenues for greater regional integration and cooperation," reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

"We share Congressman Pallone’s evaluation of the delegation’s success and appreciate the willingness of each of its members to travel to the region and witness firsthand the suffering caused by Azerbaijan’s blockades–the destructive impact of Azerbaijan’s obstruction of the Karabakh peace process–and the continuing deterioration of human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan under the regime of former KGB general Haydar Aliyev," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA.

In addition to Rep. Pallone–the delegation included Representatives Connie Morella (R-Md.)–Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)–Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

During their six-day trip–they met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian–Nagorno Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian and Azeri President Haydar Aliyev. While in the region–between August 7 and 13–the delegation urged all three governmen’s to fully participate in the OSCE mediated peace talks and specifically commended Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh for having accepted the most recent OSCE "Common State" proposal.

Several of the members of the delegation have already worked with local Armenian National Committees to schedule speaking opportunities to share their findings with their Armenian American constituents. Among these are two events on Saturday–September 11–when Rep. Capuano will speak at an ANC-Eastern Massachusetts event in Watertown and Rep. Morella will be featured at an ANC-Maryland program in Bethesda.

Rep. Pallone’s press statement regarding his visit

Rep. Frank Pallone–Jr. D-NJ–said that the recent Congressional Delegation to Armenia–Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan has helped to generate added momentum for a negotiated settlement that could open up avenues for greater regional integration and cooperation.

Pallone–the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–traveled to the region with four of his Congressional colleagues from August 7 through 13. The trip represented Pallone’s fourth visit to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–and his first to Azerbaijan.

The group’s message to officials in Armenia and Artsakh (NKR) was one of praise for their willingness to accept the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) "Common State" proposal for resolving the Karabakh conflict. The message to Azeri officials was that they should follow suit and accept the proposal as a basis for negotiations.

"I know that Azeri officials do not accept the ‘Common State,’ but I strongly believe that the basic idea of Karabakh and Azerbaijan being equals in a common state is acceptable to Baku," Pallone said.

"I have to admit I was a little apprehensive at first about going to Baku–but I felt it was extremely important to encourage President Aliyev to continue the recent trend towards direct negotiations," Pallone said of the one-day visit to the Azeri capital. "In fact–Aliyev met again with President Kocharian on August 22nd–only a week after our visit. So I believe our visit to Baku was very timely."

"As a Member of Congress who is identified in Azerbaijan – often unfavorably – as very pro-Armenian," Pallone continued–"I wanted to convey the message to President Aliyev that there would be a peace dividend for his country if a negotiated settlement could be achieved. My hope is that–if he hears that message from me and other pro-Armenian Members of Congress–he would finally recognize that the path of compromise would be far more productive than the path of confrontation and intransigence."

"President Aliyev indicated to us that he would continue to meet directly with President Kocharian. I stressed that it was also necessary to include President Ghoukassian and the elected officials of Nagorno Karabakh in direct negotiations. Aliyev said that was distinct possibility for the future," Pallone said.

In addition–to urging Aliyev to negotiate in good faith with the elected leaders of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia–Pallone stressed to the Azeri President the importance of maintaining the 1994 cease-fire–and other confidence-building measures.

"I’m concerned that President Aliyev has gotten the wrong message from many of the Westerners that he meets on a regular basis–namely oil company representatives," Pallone said. Rather than telling President Aliyev what he wants to hear–I think American visitors to Baku should make it clear that they oppose the continued blockades and want a negotiated settlement to the Karabakh conflict.

Pallone noted that initiatives such as the Silk Road Strategy Act indicate the strong support in Congress for regional integration and infrastructure development in the Caucasus. At the same time–he noted that the recent vote in the Senate to retain Section 907 and last year’s vote in the House to retain Section 907 demonstrate bicameral and bipartisan support for making direct delivery of US assistance to Azerbaijan conditional on a lifting of the blockades.

"Despite some the excessive propaganda that comes out of the press in Baku–I hope President Aliyev understands that we’re not anti-Azerbaijan," Pallone said. "We are anti-blockade–and we are in favor of protecting the security and self-determination of the people of Nagorno Karabakh. But we would welcome an Azerbaijan that seeks to be a partner with Armenia and Karabakh for regional cooperation–stability–and economic development."

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