Hillary Clinton Discusses Karabagh, US-Armenian Ties with Nalbandian

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WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian held talks in Washington late on Thursday, May 19, with the unresolved Nagorno- Karabagh conflict apparently topping the agenda.

They made no public statements after the meeting, which the Armenian Foreign Ministry said touched upon “a broad range of issues” of mutual interest.

“The United States and Armenia have many connections and relationships that span politics and go into family and so much else that is very important to us,” Clinton said as she greeted Nalbandian at the State Department. “And we have many, many important issues ahead of us, and I look forward to continuing the important conversation that we’ve been carrying out.”

“The frequency of our meetings proves our commitment to deepen and to strengthen Armenian- American relations,” Nalbandian said, for his part. “Due to our joint efforts, we elevated our relationship to a qualitatively new level during the last years.”

In a statement on the meeting issued on Friday, Nalbandian’s press office singled out the two officials’ discussion of “recent developments” in international efforts to broker a resolution of the Karabagh conflict. It quoted Clinton as saying that the dispute can be settled only by peaceful means.

According to the statement, Clinton assured her Armenian counterpart that the United States will continue to lend “full support” to Armenia and Azerbaijan in their search for a compromise settlement.

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Philip Gordon, the US assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, told a US congressional panel on Wednesday that Washington plans to “increase our engagement” in the Karabagh peace process through the OSCE’s Minsk Group, which it co-chairs with Russia and France.

“In that regard, we strongly believe that the time has come to finalize and endorse the Basic Principles [of a Karabagh settlement] and move to the drafting of a peace agreement,” Gordon said, echoing a joint statement issued by the Minsk Group cochairs last month.

Later on Thursday, Nalbandian held separate meetings with Gordon and Robert Bradtke, the group’s US co-chair. An Armenian Foreign Ministry statement said he discussed with the latter a fresh visit to the region planned by Bradtke and his Russian and French opposite numbers. No further details were reported.

The three co-chairs last month spoke of “positive momentum” created by the Armenian and Azerbaijani president at their most recent meeting held in Russia in March. The two leaders are expected to meet again in June or July.

International hopes for a breakthrough in the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks, a key US policy goal in the region, are called into question by continuing ceasefire violations in the conflict zone and bitter accusations traded by the two warring sides.

President Serge Sargisian said earlier this week that Yerevan and Baku have differing interpretations of two key principles that are at the heart of a framework peace accord proposed by the US, Russia and France.

In addition, Nalbandian met with Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) Thursday to discuss the continued aggression perpetrated by Azerbaijan towards Nagorno Karabagh.

“Foreign Minister Nalbandian and I had a productive meeting where we found agreement on issues important to Armenia and the United States. I believe a continuing dialogue between our two countries at the highest levels is vital to continuing our strategic relationship,” said Pallone.

Pallone and Nalbandian discussed the recent deaths that have occurred as a result of Azerbaijani aggression and Azerbaijan’s refusal to withdraw snipers from the line of contact despite international calls for such action. The foreign minister expressed Armenia’s continued support and dedication to a peaceful resolution of this conflict through the Minsk Process.

Concern over the impact of continued violence and rhetorical references to war by Azerbaijani officials was also discussed. Pallone expressed that finding a lasting solution to the conflict should be a US priority and committed to continuing his calls for official recognition of Nagorno Karabagh by the United States government.

Nalbandian thanked Pallone for his continued efforts to increase foreign assistance to Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. Pallone is currently circulating a letter to the chairwoman and ranking member of the House State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee requesting that economic and military assistance to Armenia be increased. The letter also calls on the Appropriations Committee to ensure funds are used to promote confidence building measures between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabagh and requests that foreign assistance to Azerbaijan be cut off in light of their continued aggressive and violent action in the region.