Armenian Reporter

Clinton avoids Armenian Genocide reference, plays up Armenia-Turkey, Karabakh talks

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Wednesday April 22, 2009

Washington - Despite strong indications that talks between Armenia and Turkey have ground to a halt, and few signs of movement in the Karabakh peace process, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 22 expressed optimism about both issues today.

Speaking just 48 hours before Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day in a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mrs. Clinton did not refer to and was not asked about the Genocide. Like her predecessor Condoleezza Rice before her, Mrs. Clinton only alluded to the Genocide as a "shared tragic history" that needs to be addressed by Armenians and Turks.

The subject was brought up by Turkey Caucus co-chair Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.), who asked about "possible extraordinary breakthroughs" between Armenia and Turkey. Turkish officials and their Washington lobbyists have been playing up such a "breakthrough" for weeks, while simultaneously warning U.S. leaders not to refer to the Genocide, as that might prevent the would-be "breakthroughs."

Mrs. Clinton responded that she has "been very encouraged by the bold steps that have recently been taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders to reconcile their countries with each other and with their shared and painful past." She did not specify the "bold steps," adding that the United States has been asked to and was supporting Armenia-Turkey "reconciliation" efforts.

[Also on April 22, the foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey issued a joint statement announcing agreement on a "road-map" for an "on-going process" of normalizing relations. But the Turkish prime minister just three days earlier effectively ruled out the normalization of relations with Armenia in the foreseeable future, saying "Turkey will not open its border gate" before the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.]

Mr. Wexler also asked about the Karabakh conflict. In response, Mrs. Clinton said the United States has "assured the government of Azerbaijan that we will intensify our efforts to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and other outstanding issues between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

She promised that the United States would continue to be "deeply engaged" through the OSCE Minsk Group, adding that she hoped that "there will be some resolution in the next month."

Asked about that latter comment, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza declined to comment on the secretary's stated timeframe, but said that he, along with the French and Russian envoys for Karabakh talks "welcome continuing progress in efforts with Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve the final differences in the Basic Principles for a Nagorno Karabakh settlement."

In a comment to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Bryza added, "The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are demonstrating mutual respect for each other, as they engage in give-and-take discussions that are gaining momentum."

Also at the hearing, committee member Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) suggested that the United States should increase aid to Armenia and either "eliminate or at least maintain parity" in military aid to Azerbaijan; the secretary of state was expected to respond to that issue in writing.

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