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"There are more positive elements in Armenia-Azeri dialog than reflected at U.N. session" 09/26/2002
"There are more positive elements in Armenia-Azeri dialog than reflected at U.N. session", says Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian

Interviewed by Edmond Y. Azadian  
September 26,2002 issue of the Mirror-Spectator.

Following his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Armenia's Foreign Minister, Mr. Vartan Oskanian, had a whirlwind tour of the East Coast, delivering lectures at Tufts University (Boston, MA), Yale (New Haven, CT) and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI). 

During his stop in Detroit, Edmond Azadian had an in-depth interview with the Foreign Minister, dwelling mostly on Armenia's relations with the world and especially with outstanding issues with its immediate neighbors. Here below is the text of that interview.   
EYA: Mr. Foreign Minister, I read your speech at the last session of the 
U.N. and also the speeches of the Azeri and Turkish representatives  concerning the issue of Karabagh. I see that there are a lot of  differences and contradictory positions. I would like to know if that was  mostly public posturing or there is something more to read into it?   
Minister Oskanian: I spoke two hours after the Azerbaijani representative  made his statement. And, it is obvious in my speech that, as a result, I  introduced some new elements, particularly the more critical part. My  speech was much more conciliatory and the modification came as a result of  the unfounded accusations that were thrown in by the Azerbaijani Foreign  Minister. I think the Azeri statement was not reflective of the mood ?  does not reflect the nature and substance of the dialogue in which two  presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are engaged. The most recent meeting  of the two presidents at the Armenian/Azerbaijan border was a good meeting.  It was assessed very positively by the two of them. They said that they  made some progress and they were hopeful there would be continuation. So  the mood was much better in that meeting than what was reflected in the  Azeri Foreign Minister's statement. That leads us to conclude that either  the foreign minister is not in the loop, or there was a deliberately  devised division of roles to feed both their domestic needs and the  international perceptions.   
The problem with the statement ? the Azeri statement ? was that the Azeris  tried to get on the bandwagon of what goes on in the international arena as  they did right after September 11th when the international community's main  concern was the fight against terrorism. Last year, Azerbaijanis tried to  put the Karabagh issue within the context of terrorism and began to present  the case as a terrorism issue. That particular policy came back to haunt  the Azeris themselves as I made clear in my statement, because the  international press made revelations about Azerbaijan's involvement in  terrorism, and well-documented instances of harboring terrorist cells on  Azerbaijani territory. Now, when the international community is talking  about Iraq and its defiance of UN resolutions, suddenly we hear the  Azerbaijani Foreign Minister talking about Armenia's noncompliance with UN  resolutions on Nagorno-Karabagh. Obviously the Azeri representative has  not read those resolutions very well. There is nothing that would obligate  Armenia to do anything except to use its good offices with Nagorno-Karabagh  to reach an agreement and a resolution through negotiations on this issue,  and this is precisely what Armenia has been doing. So, this issue again  will come to haunt the Azeris as those resolutions place more obligations  on Azerbaijan than on Armenia.   
Armenia's Conciliatory Tone   
EYA: What is new in the negotiations about the Karabagh issue? The two  Presidents have met many times ? mor e than ten times, I guess ? and there  are prospects for more meetings. Is there anything new on the table that  you can reveal?   
Minister Oskanian: Well, the presidents have met more than 18 times now,  and I must say that these meetings were certainly not a waste of time.  They made a lot of progress and at one point, as we made this very clear  last year, we were very close to signing a peace deal with Azerbaijan. But  things began to unravel as a result of some new demands that were put  forward by the Azerbaijani side and they began to backtrack from the  pinnacle that we had achieved. At this moment the presidents are trying to  put the process back on track. There are very strong and promising  elements on the table that the two sides have agreed to. There are still a  lot of unresolved issues remaining but we think that there's more that the  presidents have agreed to than those, which still remain to be decided. Now  we have to wait and see what future meetings will produce. But, we think  that there is a pretty strong foundation on which this process can be built  and we continue to remain hopeful.   
EYA: Recently, Baku-Ceyhan pipeline was inaugurated and official ceremonies  were held where the Presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey  participated. What is the political impact of the construction of that  pipeline? That pipeline needs stability in the area, so does the resolution  of the conflict become more imminent or does it give more leverage to 
Azerbaijan to be more intransigent?   
Minister Oskanian: Well, the political implications of the pipeline ? the  nature of it very much will depend on Azerbaijan's attitude during the  construction period and afterwards, once the oil begins to flow through  that pipeline. If Azerbaijan tries to use oil as an instrument of power to  pressure Armenia to make unilateral concessions, then the political fallout  will be very negative on the region' s stability. We hope that the  pipeline will cement cooperation in the region and the presence of the  pipeline will make the Azeris more careful about their war talk. That  should also make them more hesitant to engage in any military activity  considering that resumption of military operations in the region will  impact negatively the pipeline and the economy and the countries of the  region. So, this could be a double-edged sword and one simply would hope  that Azeri oil policy would be such that the oil will become a stabilizing  factor rather than a destabilizing factor. We have to wait and see how  things evolve and what kind of a policy Azeris will adopt once the pipeline  is in place.     
Armenia is guided by its own national interests in the region   
EYA: Armenia has a politically very intriguing role or position  balancing its foreign policy and it is always questioned ? how can Armenia  be a recipient of United States assistance and at the same time, be on good  terms with its neighbors, especially the ones that are listed on the list  of the "axis of evil", meaning Iran and Iraq. We also learned from the news  media that Armenia has had a rapprochement with the Iraqi regime in this  tense situation. How does that affect our relations and the aid that we  receive from the United States?   
Minister Oskanian: Well, first Iraq. We have good relations with all Arab  countries. One should not forget that we have Armenian communities  throughout the Arab world including Iraq. So, Armenia has the obligation  to be present wherever we have Armenian communities so that we can also  address their concerns and their problems and be helpful as much as we can.   
Iran is a different matter. Our relations with Iran are very extensive.  Ira n is our neighbor and good relations between Iran and Armenia are very  important and critical for Caucasus peace and stability. Armenia is the  country that engages Iran in our region and Iran's contribution to peace  and stability to the region during these past ten years has been very  instrumental. They have been playing a very visible role in balancing  between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is very important, especially  juxtaposed to Turkey's policy of unilateral support for Azerbaijan which  creates a tremendous imbalance in the Caucasus. So Iran's role has been  positive. The United States has been very understanding of Armenia's  relations with Iran and our relations with Iran do not in any way impact or  endanger or threaten US interests in the region. There is no conflict of  interest in terms of going against American security interests in the  region. The US also understands that for Armenia, good relations with Iran  are critical for Armenia's security and economic development. Armenia is  guided by its own national interests while being considerate also of the  security concerns and interests of other countries who are engaged in the  Caucasus.       
The U.S. clearly understands our relations with Russia   
EYA: Does the Russian military presence in Armenia present a sore point  between Armenia's relations with the United States?   
Minister Oskanian: Not at all. I think that's one other issue that the  United States clearly understands. Armenia is extremely security-conscious  given our unfriendly relations with two of our four neighbors and given the  fact that the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict has not been resolved yet. Turkey  has always been prepared to engage itself militarily in the  Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and this makes our security concerns very real  and one of the ways to provide additional security to Armenia is the  presence of Russian bases on our territory. However, that does not affect  in any way our policy of complementarity, which we've been applying to  develop equally good relations with Russia and the United States. We've  done this very successfully as we've attempted and succeeded in reconciling  the competition of these two powers in the region and particularly in  Armenia by providing equal opportunity for both for engagement in our  country and in the Caucasus. So, we do not see any conflict of interest  particularly now, after the suspension of 907, a new dimension has been  added to our cooperation with the United States. That is military  cooperation -- something that was missing in our relations with the United  States because of 907. Now that dimension even makes the complementarity  policy a more viable policy as we demonstrate that we can cooperate --  politically, economically and militarily ? with all powers with interests  in the region.   
The plight of Javakhk Armenians and Armenian-Georgian relations   
EYA: What is the plight of the Armenians in Javakhk and what will be the  future of the Russian military presence in Georgia and also the recent  deterioration between Georgia and Russia? How does that impact Armenians  in Javakhk and Georgian- Armenian relations in general?   
Minister Oskanian: The fate of Russian bases in Georgia, of course, must  be decided between the Russians and Georgians themselves. The Armenian  population in the Javakheti region economically relies on the presence of  the Russian bases, so they will be affected by the withdrawal of those  bases, but eventually that decision has to be taken by the Georgians and  Russians. With regard to the fate and the state of Armenians in Georgia,  but particularly in Javakheti, that is under the attention of the Armenian  government because th e Armenian government considers the fate and state of  our compatriots in Georgia or in any country within the realm of our  responsibilities and obligations. Every time a problem arises, the  Government of Armenia has worked it out with the central government, trying  to address those problems and trying to find solutions to them. We're also  working with the government of Georgia to provide direct assistance to the  Armenians of Javakheti such as providing electricity, textbooks for the  schools, doing construction, improving the schools in the regions. These  are all done in cooperation and with the knowledge of the Government of  Georgia. As to Georgian-Russian relations, Armenia is very concerned about  the recent developments because Georgian stability and peace in that region  is critical to Armenia's security and also economic development. We follow  it very closely, and we are prepared to use our good offices if we're  asked, to work with both sides in any way possible if we could, to avoid  any further deterioration and particularly any military engagement by both  sides. We hope that this issue will be resolved peacefully and we hope that  the issue should not become a point of contention between the two. Rather  we think this provides a good opportunity so that Georgia and Russia work  together on this issue by fighting terrorism in that region together.   
EYA: Is the situation in Georgia leading towards a federal system --  Southern Ossetia is challenging the central government, Ajaria is  challenging the central government, Abkhazia has broken away, and not  least, the Armenians in the Javakhk region are in unrest. Is the federal  system really in the cards and will Armenians figure in that mosaic if a  federal system is adopted?   
Minister Oskanian: What kind of a structure will evolve, whether a change  will indeed eventually take place, all that is up to the people of Georgia  who inhabit that territory and it is up to the people of Georgia to decide.  We recognize Georgia's central government, we work with the authorities on  all issues pertaining to Georgian-Armenian relations. For Armenia, what is  important is to have a stable Georgia and stable relations with Armenia.  That is very critical not only for our individual countries but also for  peace and stability in the entire Caucasus.   
"Most of the Islamic countries are guided by their strategic interests  rather than religion in dealing with Karabagh issue."   
EYA: How do you characterize Armenia's relations with the Arab countries  and the Muslim world ? the Muslims being more sympathetic or in tune with  Muslim Azerbaijan and Armenians living in Arab countries have some kind of  balancing act to do. In what context do you see Armenian relations with the  Arab world and with the Muslim world in general?   
Minister Oskanian: Our relations are very good with Arab countries and  also with Muslim countries. Iran is an excellent example, and our  relations with Arab countries, which are Muslim, is another example of the  good relations between Armenia and the Arab and Islamic world. In addition  we have big communities in almost every Arab country, which plays a very  positive role in advancing and developing our bilateral ties with those  countries at a governmental level. We understand that there are certain  sympathies by certain Islamic countries toward Azerbaijan ?   
EYA: --- especially Pakistan ---   
Minister Oskanian: --- yes, purely on the basis of religious affiliation.  But, we do not think that the position and policies of those few countries  is widespread, and that does not in any way impact negatively on the peace  process. The records of these countries when it comes to voting on  Nagorno-Karabagh matters at the UN or in other international organizations  is clear evidence that they try to look into this issue more objectively  and try to transcend their religious affiliation. They look at it from a  strategic point of view and that has produced very balanced results in  terms of their engagement and their positions on the Nagorno-Karabagh  issue.  What are the dividends of Armenia's relations with the Far East?   
EYA: We read in the news media that you travel extensively to the Far East,  and Armenia has invested a lot of time and resources to develop relations  with the far eastern countries ? Japan, China, and major powers. How much  of that investment is justified in terms of economic development and  political benefit?   
Minister Oskanian: Well, such efforts with the countries you mention are  definitely justified. We have excellent relations with China. We trade  with them. There's Chinese investment in Armenia, and joint ventures. We  also receive a lot of Chinese aid. The same is true with Japan. Japanese  companies have interests in Armenia in the mining sector. There are  Japanese grants and loans being provided to Armenia. Japan is the third  largest contributor to our region and to Armenia. China is a major power ?  it's a growing power and in the next decade China will rival other super  powers in the Caucasus in terms of its economic presence and involvement.  So those are highly justified investments of time and energy and effort.  If we talk about other countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and other far  places such as Mexico, Cuba, which I recently visited ? we think that those  visits are also justified. Our main interest, of course, is in our  immediate region and our main focus must be on the region and also on the  countries with which we have extensive economic and political ties. But as  we advance that track we cannot just simply sit down and do nothing with  other countries. Each year we need to expand the network of our bilateral  ties as much as we can. There's a dividend in relations with every single  country in the world. If there's no dividend in trade or economy, there's  a dividend in the political aspect of it, such as cooperation in  international organizations, such as getting their votes on  Nagorno-Karabagh, or other important matters for Armenia. So, expanding  our network of bilateral relations is a critical part of our diplomacy and  we need to do that each year, and we need to come to a point where Armenia  will have extensive contact with as many countries as possible.   
Long-term perspective of future Armenia-Russia relations 
EYA: I hesitate to formulate my question about Armenian/Russian relations  ?looking at those relations in future perspective ? how reliable Russian  military presence is in Armenia in light of the Russian impotence vis-à-vis  the Balkan war ? the destruction of Yugoslavia. Also, Russia initially was  very protective of "near abroad" countries, former Soviet republics, now  that sense seems to have dissipated with U.S. presence in Central Asia and  the Caucasus. Also some warming up with the Ankara government has  developed and even military hardware was supplied ? or sold ? to Turkey.  In that context, can you comment on Armenia/Russia relations the long term?   
Minister Oskanian: Our relations with Russia are very extensive ? military  security, economic, social, cultural - I mean they're very diversified  relations but the military and the security aspect is extremely important  and critical for Armenia. We think that is a serious deterrent for any  possible encroachment by an outside power into Armenia. That already  served its purpose in 1993 at the height of the Karabagh conflict when  Turkish f orces were posturing along the Armenian border and were  threatening to encroach on Armenia. The Russians very clearly stated that  would mean the beginning of a third world war. After that particular  statement the Turks hesitated to make any moves. So, that was clear  evidence of the fact that the Russian presence in Armenia could become a  serious deterrent for any possible encroachment by any outside power. We  are tied to Russia in a very substantial security agreement ? an agreement  that provides for mutual military assistance in case of attack on one or  the other countries. We are also linked with Russia through the collective  security agreement, which has a similar provision which provides direct  military assistance in case of attack on any members of the alliance. So,  those are two extremely important components of Armenia's security policy.   
EYA: Thank you very much. I wish you good luck. You have a very difficult  task to represent Armenia and its interests vis-à-vis the rest of the  world.  

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