Hillary Clinton Urges Azerbaijan And Armenia to End Dispute

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian

YEREVAN (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Armenia and Azerbaijan on July 4. She appealed to both nations to peacefully settle their longrunning territorial dispute, but there were no outward signs of diplomatic progress.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan in Baku on Sunday.

The dispute between the two former Soviet states risks escalating to warfare and has caused diplomatic problems beyond their borders. Shuttling between their capitals, she told leaders to act quickly to settle the matter.

“The final steps toward peace often are the most difficult, but we believe peace is possible,” Clinton said at a news conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, with her counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with President Serge Sargisian

She soon made the one-hour flight to Armenia and drove to the presidential palace in Yerevan for a meeting and dinner with President Serge Sargisian, who said the dispute over Nagorno-Karabagh was the single most important issue for his country.

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The truce ended six years of war that killed about 30,000 and displaced an estimated 1 million.

Sargisian’s words were almost identical to those made in a statement hours earlier by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

Turkey, however, has refused to ratify the agreement until Armenia removes its military forces of Nagorno-Karabagh.

At an evening news conference in Yerevan, Clinton implicitly criticized Azerbaijan for a recent outbreak of violence. In mid-June, an exchange of gunfire along the front lines near Nagorno- Karabagh killed four ethnic Armenian troops and one Azerbaijani soldier.

Clinton urged Turkey to move ahead with the agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia and said Armenia has done its part by stating its willingness to go forward with ratification of the agreement once Turkey drops its insistence that Armenia and Azerbaijan first settle their differences.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with President Serge Sargisian

Armenian Parties Disagree on Clinton Visit Results

Armenia’s leading political forces offered on Tuesday differing assessments of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Yerevan, with the ruling Republican Party (HHK) touting it as “very important” for the country and its opponents sounding far more skeptical.

Some local pro-democracy activists, meanwhile, expressed their disappointment with Clinton’s failure to publicly criticize the Armenian authorities’ human rights record.

“The American sector is one of the most important directions of our foreign policy,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the HHK, which is led by President Serge Sargisian. “Ever since the first day of our independence, there has been very close cooperation [between the two nations,] and the United States has provided various assistance to the young Republic of Armenia both in terms of democracy building and other areas.”

Echoing statements by Armenian government officials, he said Clinton’s visit strengthened US- rmenian relations. He cited Clinton’s public endorsement of Armenia’s position on normalizing relations with Turkey as another key result of the trip.

“We knew very well that the United States administration always supported the Armenian president’s pro-active policy of establishing relations with Turkey without preconditions,” Sharmazanov said. “But Mrs. Clinton went farther here.”

“This was a gesture to the Armenian authorities. I think this was also a message to Turkey to the effect that the US supports Armenia on this issue and agrees with Armenia’s view that Turkey is not constructive and is speaking with preconditions,” added the ruling party spokesman.

But a senior representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an opposition party highly critical of Sargisian’s US-backed policy on Turkey, downplayed Clinton’s statements. Giro Manoyan suggested that they were aimed at making sure that Yerevan does not rescind its signature from the Turkish-Armenian protocols signed last October.

Manoyan also reiterated his party’s strong criticism of Clinton’s failure to describe the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide during what the US Embassy in Armenia called a “private visit” to the Tsitsernakabert Genocide memorial in Yerevan. He denounced the characterization as “offensive” and said it contradicts the fact that she laid a wreath there in her capacity as America’s top diplomat. “The American side should clarify what happened,” he said.

Sharmazanov welcomed the wreathlaying ceremony, saying it showed that the US is “committed to democratic values and human rights.” He also hailed Clinton’s statements on the Nagorno- Karabagh conflict and, in particular, her strong condemnation of threats to solve by it force. The condemnation was primarily addressed to Azerbaijan, he said.

Manoyan countered that Clinton did not mention Azerbaijan by name. “I would say that pressure over the Karabagh issue was mainly exerted on Armenia,” he claimed.

(Radio Free Europe contributed to this report.)