Oskanian Says International Genocide Recognition Top Priority for 2007

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian detailed the 2007 foreign policy agenda Tuesday saying the international recognition of the Genocide, as well as international condemnation for the destruction of Armenian monumen’s in Julfa, Nakhichevan would be priorities on the agenda. "In 2007 we anticipate important developmen’s in a number of countries–particularly France and US–in connection with the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The activation of the process of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide has caused serious anxiety among political circles in Turkey," said Oskanian. The Foreign Minister said that prioritizing the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide did not interfere with developing diplomatic relations with Turkey. He opined that the Karabakh conflict was the main obstacle in that realm. Oskanian assessed that no major progress was seen Armeno-Turkish relations Armenian-Turkish relations. "Turkey continues to associate the improvement of Armenian-Turkish relations with a number of preconditions, while Armenia’stands for establishment of relations without any preconditions. Armenia repeatedly has expressed willingness to hold talks to settle issues that exist between the two countries," explained Oskanian. The foreign minister also emphasized that by pursuing non-constructive policies, Turkey and Azerbaijan continued to isolate Armenia from regional programs and projects. He went on to underscore the importance of garnering international condemnation for the destruction of Armenian monumen’s in Nakhichevan. Oskanian said Armenian diplomats would work to have the Council of Europe, UNESCO and other international organizations to condemn this barbaric act. The monumen’s in question are intricate stone-carved crosses in the cemetery in Julfa, Nakhichevan. Azeri soldiers have systematically destroyed the crosses. Photos supporting the claim were shown in Strasbourg, France, and will be moved to a new city every two months. Late last year the Armenian government launched a traveling photo exhibition detailing the destruction of monumen’s at the Armenian cemetery in Julfa. In discussing prospects for peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Oskanian said a "very tentatively" meeting with his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov was scheduled to take place in Moscow on January 23. A spokesman for the Azeri foreign ministry confirmed this report. The talks will presumably be attended by the French, Russian and US co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The mediating troika is pressing the parties to build on progress that was apparently made by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan during their last face-to-face meeting held in Minsk on November 28. President Robert Kocharian made it clear last month, however, that Yerevan will not cut any peace deals with Baku before the Armenian parliamentary elections due next month. Oskanian insisted on December 19 that the negotiating process has not been put on hold and will continue with "less publicity" in the coming months. The Minsk Group’s US co-chair, Matthew Bryza, was likewise reported to say that the mediators and the parties will continue to "work together quietly." Oskanian implied on Tuesday that a breakthrough could be achieved later this year. "I have repeatedly said that quite an interesting [peace] proposal is on the table," he told a news conference. "Assuming that there is political will, one can expect serious progress in this process at any moment." Oskanian reiterated that further progress in the peace process hinges on Azerbaijan’s acceptance of the "Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination." The Minsk Group’s current peace proposals seem to uphold that right, envisioning a future referendum on the disputed region’s status. However, Azeri leaders say they will never agree to Karabakh’s independence or unification with Armenia. In his New Year address to the nation, President Ilham Aliyev said Baku could grant the Karabakh Armenia’s only "greater autonomy opportunities within Azerbaijan." For his part, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Tahir Tagizade claimed Tuesday that their right to self-determination is not incompatible with Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Also. Armenia is looking to benefit from an ambitious project to build a natural gas pipeline that would stretch from Central Asia to Turkey and Europe via the Caspian Sea, Oskanian said on Tuesday. The idea of putting in place a new export route for the Caspian region’s rich hydrocarbon resources was actively promoted by the United States in the late 1990s but never got off the drawing board for geopolitical and economic reasons. The European Union is now trying to revive it as part of a long-term strategy of easing Europe’s growing dependence on Russian gas. The EU hopes that work on the 3,300-kilometer pipeline, dubbed Nabucco, will start in 2008 and end in 2011. The pipeline would pump gas from Azerbaijan, Turkmen’stan and Kazakhstan and have a maximum capacity of 30 billion cubic meters per year. According to Oskanian, official Yerevan regards the $5.8 billion project, which was formally approved by five EU nations last June, as an opportunity to further diversify Armenia’s energy resources in the long run. "Armenia will try to have some involvement in that project," he said. "No practical steps are being taken in that direction yet. But negotiations are going on, and we are trying to be involved in those discussions in order to ensure the diversification of our gas supplies," he added without elaborating. Azerbaijan is extremely unlikely to agree to Armenia’s participation in the project before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, though. Besides, the Transcaspian pipeline would almost certainly link up with a newly built pipeline that will soon start delivering Azerbaijani gas to Georgia and Turkey, suggesting that it would bypass Armenia in any case. Armenia will instead be able to receive gas from neighboring Iran through a much smaller pipeline. Officials in Yerevan and Tehran’say work on its first Armenian section has all but been completed. A senior Iranian official reportedly said over the weekend that his country is ready to start supplies "at any moment." But Oskanian insisted that the 40-kilometer facility still needed to undergo technical tests. "The pipeline is physically complete. We just need to test it," he said, adding that Iranian gas will therefore not start flowing into Armenia before March. In the meantime, Russia will remain Armenia’s sole gas supplier. Russian energy companies, notably the Gazprom monopoly, also own the country’s gas and electricity distribution networks as well as several major power plants. Furthermore, the Armenian government is widely expected to give Gazprom a controlling stake in the pipeline from Iran.

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