By Edmond Y. Azadian
Our globetrotting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her recent tour in Scandinavia and is continuing on to the Caucasus region and will conclude in Istanbul, Turkey. Upon arriving in Yerevan on Monday, she remarked that her delegation truly enjoyed Armenia’s balmy weather, after their visit to the arctic region in the north of Europe. That talk of weather seemed to set the tone of her visit to Armenia since most of the public and private talks with the officials amounted to little more than lip service.
There were perhaps two main reasons for this grand tour: first, in an election year it is important to demonstrate to the public that the US government is tending to its global responsibilities dutifully and second, after Vladimir Putin’s re-election as Russia’s president, to explore the underbelly of the Russian bear and find out what reactions US initiatives in the region may generate.
The Armenian government was very appreciative of the visit, which would contrast the previous visits of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who sidestepped Armenia with brazen arrogance while visiting its neighbors. That contentment was fully expressed in President Serge Sargisian’s welcoming remarks, which dwelled mostly on the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
On many issues of real substance to Armenia, the secretary of state was demonstrably elusive.
To be fair, we have to refer to two issues, which were addressed to the satisfaction of Mrs. Clinton’s hosts: on May 19, President Serge Sargisian boycotted the NATO conference in Chicago because a declaration was drafted to be signed by the participants, favoring Turkish and Azeri causes of action. Indeed, it deviated from the three principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group on Karabagh negotiations, the declaration touted the principle of territorial integrity, deleting the principles of non-use of force and the right to self-determination. The declaration read in particular:
“We remain committed to our support of territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, and will also continue to support efforts towards peaceful settlements of these regional conflicts, based upon these principles and norms of international law, the United Nations charter, and the Helsinki Final Act.”
Clinton seemed to revert back to the Minsk Principles in her deliberation. The second issue was referred to Armenian-Turkish relations, when the secretary of the state reiterated her former position that “the ball is in Turkey’s court” and that Karabagh negotiations should not serve as precondition for Armenian-Turkish relations.
The Chicago declaration was also a slap in Russia’s face and Georgia’s territorial integrity (as the Western powers believe) was mentioned in a direct challenge to Putin, who also chose not to attend the Chicago conference.
Despite her disagreement with Turkey on these issues, the US was unable to convince Turkey to open the borders or to sign the Protocols, because when action does not follow words, the Turkish leaders will realize that there are no consequences to not following through the stated policies. Turkey is rewarded, its self-serving policies, not withstanding, first by NATO leadership acquiescing to Ankara’s demand to exclude Israel from the Chicago conference, and then, right after the summit NATO, decided to integrate 10 Turkish major-generals and five lieutenant-generals to be integrated into its military command. These rewards were offered to Ankara because it has become the vanguard of Western plans to train mercenaries and send them to Syria to topple the Assad regime. (That also explains Israel’s silence on favoring Turkey).
The most dramatic incident took place on the eve of Clinton’s arrival in Yerevan when Azeri forces, violating the ceasefire for the thousandth time, invaded the Tavoush region in Armenia and killed three soldiers and left many wounded. When outraged journalists asked pointed questions regarding the incident, she offered a diplomatic answer: “While I have only just learned about these incidents, I am very concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians. The use of force will not resolve the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and therefore force must not be used.” She warned both sides to refrain from the use of force as if Armenia was equally guilty in suffering three casualties. She also stated she would give the same message to Baku leaders.
Clinton does not hesitate to blame President Bashar al Assad, when mercenaries from Turkey invade Syria and go on a murderous rampage, but she chooses to tiptoe when it comes to Azerbaijani aggression. That will simply be interpreted as a green light to continue on their bellicose course.
Clinton ignored also the question of whether the US should enforce section 907 of Freedom Support Act, given Azerbaijan’s war rhetoric.
During a joint press conference, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian forcefully condemned the Azeri aggression, which does not promise to have a peaceful end. He also took the opportunity to counter the soothing fabrications of Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül that Armenian-Turkish negotiations are not dead, that contacts have been continuing.
“There are no negotiations,” Nalbandian said. “The negotiations have ended, the protocols have been signed, which the Turkish side does not honor, by placing pre-conditions. I don’t believe Turkey is entitled to put any pre-conditions.”
All in all, Clinton’s visit was more than a courtesy call. She came to test the waters and assess how far Armenia could be lured from Russia’s grip in return for some generalities, which led nowhere. More serious business is awaiting her in Georgia, where she has to reinforce Tblisi’s stand-off with Moscow. In Azerbaijan, she will find out how far the Aliyev clan could go in containing Iran and supplying Israel with military airports.
Although her Istanbul meetings seem to focus on combating terrorism, the Turks will be fully engaged in toppling another unfriendly regime to Israel, namely Syria, and helping the US and the West to tighten the noose around Iran.
Armenia’s interest is to find out what our secretary of state will say and do in Baku. The answer comes from a report by Agence France Press, which states: “the secretary of state will visit an oil and gas trade exposition in Baku, where US oil companies have invested $8 billion since 1991.”
It is obvious that the smells oil and gas are intoxicating the secretary of state to the point that she will forget human rights and war issues, which were purported to be included on her agenda.