In Talks with Cheney, Armenian Premier Condemns Calls for Azeri Rule Over Karabakh

WASHINGTON (Combined Sources)–During a rare meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday, Armenia’s Prime Minister, Tigran Sargsyan, condemned as "dangerous" and "a cause for concern" recent statemen’s by US Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and Turkish President Abdullah Gul linking a 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 Premier 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. He was received by Cheney in the White House late on Friday for talks on a broad range of issues relating to US-Armenia relations and regional security.

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.

Sargsyan described as “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.

On Karabakh, the Armenian premier reaffirmed Yerevan’s overall support for a framework peace accord proposed by the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group but denounced as “dangerous” 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 the State Department’s representative to the OSCE Minsk Group talks, stated that Armenia must agree that Nagorno Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan.

Cheney met President Serzh Sarkisian when the latter visited Washington in October 2007 in his then capacity as prime minister.

President George W. Bush has shunned both Serzh Sarkisian and his predecessor, Robert Kocharian, because of the highly controversial ways in which they won Armenia’s last three presidential elections criticized by Western observers. Bush sent no congratulatory messages to Sarkisian after the last presidential ballot held in February.

The outgoing U.S. administration seems more sympathetic to Armenia’s reformist prime minister, having praised his stated efforts to combat corruption, ensure equal government treatment of all businesses and reform Armenia’s tax and customs services. “The prime minister is setting a good example as he takes on tough issues and is advancing a reform agenda,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Matthew Bryza told RFE/RL recently.

A statement by the press office said Sargsyan also discussed with Cheney the release of $236.5 million in additional U.S. assistance to Armenian which Washington effectively froze following the February election and the ensuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition. The issue dominated Sarkisian’s separate talks with John Danilovich, chief executive of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency administering the aid package.

The MCC board declined to unblock the assistance during its most recent meeting in September.

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