High Level Talks in Washington Signal Possible Shift in US Attitude Toward Armenia

Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan meets with US Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington DC on Friday, October 10.

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Following a string of high-level meetings between Armenian and US leaders in Washington that began late last week and carried over to tuesday, a senior U.S. diplomat on Friday called for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and stressed the need for a quick resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after talks with Armenia’s leaders in Yerevan.

Armenia’s Prime Minister, Tigran Sargsyan, was in Washington late last week to meet top U.S. official and attend annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Sargsyan was received by US VIce President Dick Cheney in the White House on October 10 for talks on a broad range of issues relating to US-Armenia relations and regional security. The Armenian Premeir wrapped up his five day visit late Tuesday with talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

High on the agenda of both meetings was discussion on the future of Armenian-Turkish relations and the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Official Armenian sources said both issues were also high on the agenda of Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried’s meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan on Friday.

President Sarkisian told Fried that Armenia wants to deepen its relations with the United States because it considers them an “important element of regional stability.”

Echoing statemen’s by Cheney and Rice, Fried welcomed Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s visit to Armenia which highlighted an unprecedented thaw in strained relations between the two neighboring states. “I believe that today we are as close to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations as never before,” he told journalists. The Armenian and Turkish governmen’s are truly committed to that, he said.

On Nagorno-Karabakh, Fried said the recent Russian-Georgian war added to the urgency of the ending the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.

Fried said he also discussed lingering political tensions in Armenia’stemming from last February’s disputed presidential election and the subsequent government crackdown on the opposition. The diplomat, who also met Armenian opposition leaders, said he reiterated U.S. calls for the release of those opposition members who Washington believes were jailed for political reasons.

Sargsyan, for his part, said he is optimistic about the future of U.S.-Armenian ties. The Armenian premier described as “extremely successful” his latest trip to Washington during which he met Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Sargsyan wrapped up his five-day visit late Tuesday.

“The United States and Armenia, of course, have good relations,” Rice was reported to tell journalists just before her talks with Sargsyan. “We are working on a number of issues. We were very pleased to see that the visit of [Turkish] President Gul to Armenia went very well, and look forward to continuing to work on issues of common interest.”

Rice also said she and Sargsyan will “certainly” discuss international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which the United States hopes will produce a breakthrough before the end of this year.

But during his meeting with Cheney, Sargsyan condemned as "dangerous" and "a cause for concern" recent statemen’s on Karabakh by US Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Sargsyan’s remarks come against the backdrop of a growing synchronization in the rhetoric on Karabakh coming out of Ankara and Washington, linking the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations to a resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would see a reemergance of Azeri rule over Nagorno-Karabakh, effectively wrenching 17 years of democratic statehood and independence away from its indigenous Armenian population.

The Armenian government’s press office said Cheney and Sargsyan discussed ways of strengthening U.S.-Armenian ties and “exchanged thoughts” on the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as well as Armenia’s recent rapprochement with Turkey. It cited Sargsyan as saying that Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s historic September 6 visit to Yerevan “could give a positive impetus to the normalization of relations” between Armenia and Turkey.

During his meeting with Cheney, Sargsyan described as a “cause for concern” Gul’s recent speech at the UN General Assembly in which the Turkish leader linked that normalization with a resolution of the Karabakh conflict. He said that the Armenian leadership’s “constructive” stance on relations with Turkey is often perceived as a sign of weakness in and outside Armenia.

The Armenian Prime Minister also denounced Bryza’s reported remark last week that the conflict should be resolved on the basis on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

Bryza’s commen’s follow a series of statemen’s, over the past several weeks, in which he has demonstrated a pro-Azerbaijani bias by prioritizing the misapplication of the principle of territorial integrity to the Nagorno Karabakh issue over the basic right of all peoples to self-determination.

In an October 9th interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation Russian language service, Bryza, who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and also the State Department’s representative to the OSCE Minsk Group talks, stated that Armenia must agree that Nagorno Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan.

On Sunday, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Chairman Ken Hachikian publicly and forcefully challenged Bryza’s statement that, as a precondition for peace, Armenia must agree that Nagorno Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.

Speaking before a capacity crowd of more than a thousand elected officials and community leaders during the ANC-WR annual banquet at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Hachikian sharply condemned the "retreat from principle" in U.S. policy “toward the people and republic of Nagorno-Karabakh–who have strived, at the brutal cost of a generation of its best sons and daughters–to live up to the fundamentally American ideal that all people deserve to live free of foreign tyranny, under a government of their own choosing."

“Just this past week, we saw a senior State Department official, Matt Bryza, moving farther from even the pretense of supporting democracy, by saying that Armenia must accept the false proposition that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan,” he said. “He’s absolutely wrong. And we all know it–and so does Baku and Ankara."

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