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Armenian Assembly of America National Conference

Remarks at the Armenian Assembly of America National Conference

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Mayflower Hotel
Washington, DC
March 27, 2006


Ambassador Fried: Thank you for that kind introduction.

I have the disadvantage of having to follow my friend Vartan [Oskanian, the foreign minister]. That is a real disadvantage because he's very very good. A good interlocutor, a good friend. Most of the time we agree. When he disagrees, I am reminded by just how good he is. [Laughter].

It's a pleasure to be here at the national conference, and I was happy to accept the invitation from the Assembly and the Armenian General Benevolent Union and the Eastern and Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, one of the great ancient churches of Christendom, to speak to you today. And I understand that this conference is held in partnership with at least 15 other Armenian-American organizations and others are in attendance. But let me say in particular that I value my years of cooperation with the Assembly, and I appreciate its leadership's professionalism and their [inaudible] commitment as Americans to work with us to support democratic and prosperous Armenia.

Now it's true that we don't agree on all issues and the Assembly can be just as frank, which is a diplomatic word -- [Laughter] -- just as frank as they have to be in expressing that. But as Americans it's not only your right, it's your duty to speak out to your government when you agree and when you disagree. That's never gotten in the way of our partnership. I appreciate the candid advice from the Assembly and from the American Armenian community, and I look forward to hearing more of it. It's good to hear straight out what's on your minds, what you like about what we're doing, what you don't like about what we're doing. That's the way a real partnership is made.

I've just come back from a visit to Yerevan, and I have to say that it is beautiful to see a city with Mount Ararat floating in the distance, the mountains, the snow, and spring just beginning to come to Yerevan. [Applause].

As Americans, you should be proud that our new embassy compound is up and running. It's a physical embodiment of our commitment to Armenia. It shows that we have put in the money to reflect our political will to see that Armenia prospers in the 21st Century as a free country, secure and democratic. [Applause].

While I was in Yerevan I had the privilege of meeting with President Kocharian, with Vartan Foreign Minister Oskanian, with the Defense Minister Sargsian, and with political leaders, including leaders of the opposition. That's what we do when we go abroad in the State Department. We meet with everyone. And we had serious talks. We talked about regional security, which as you know means Nagorno-Karabakh, relations with Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. We talked about strengthening the economy and promoting democratic reform. And I want to say a few words about those issues today and talk about key topics that I think are of interest to you.

President Bush's new National Security Strategy says that it is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture. Your efforts here and your efforts in Armenia, to help Armenia democratize and prosper economically, matched with U.S. efforts and hopes for the country, and I thank you for them.

I also thank you because in areas of business transparency the Armenian-American community is leading by example. I thank you for that as well.

Now this is a good day in U.S.-Armenian relations. Today the United States and Armenia will sign its Millennium Challenge Cooperation Compact. That is a new assistance agreement for $235 million, and that is new money for Armenia. It is a testament to Armenia's progress and its commitment to do more on good governance, economic freedom, and investment in its people.

Much remains to be done and no community is more aware of the challenges, as well as the progress, as the Armenian-American community.

The challenge to sustain Armenia's status as an MCC recipient is allowing voters to independently and freely choose their leaders through elections that meet international democratic standards. We're looking at the parliamentary and presidential elections next year and in 2008 as key tests. We hope that Armenia is moving in that direction.

We are building and taking at face value assurances from the government, and with our own election strategy geared to work with both the government and the Armenian civil society to try and achieve this goal. We must achieve this goal to sustain our relations.

We believe that Armenia has the potential to be a leader in the region by showing progress on democratic reforms to keep pace with its economic expansion.

Let me turn to an issue that is much on our minds at the State Department and perhaps on yours, which is Nagorno-Karabakh. A solution to Nagorno-Karabakh remains a key focus. Obviously, and I don't need to tell you this, a resolution would open the door to large investment, deeper integration with the global economy, peace will bring greater prosperity.

Now we were hopeful last month that the meeting at Rambouillet between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan would move us decisively forward. We were disappointed that it didn't happen, but we did not give up, we did not turn away.

Before I went to Yerevan, I went to Baku and met with President Aliyev. I was sufficiently encouraged by what he said that I went to Yerevan for further discussions, and based on the help and sound thinking of the Armenian side, there is a possibility for progress in 2006. Now this is not easy. Neither side can or will achieve its maximum aims. Peace will require solutions that meet both sides' concerns as much as possible. And both Armenia and Azerbaijan must prepare for a good settlement, and the best can be the enemy of the good.

The United States is not going to impose a settlement. We're not going to force Armenia or Azerbaijan to take anything. We don't have that power, and it is not our intention to try to exercise it. But it is our intention to support a solution if both governments arrive at it, and if there is a solution we are going to get behind it. If the government of Armenia agrees to it, we will support them, and I hope you do as well.

Now we hope, but also anticipate, that a solution on Nagorno-Karabakh will result in an open border with Turkey, which is a consistent goal on our agenda with Ankara. From Yerevan, I went to Ankara and I made this point with the Turkish government that we want the border open, and we want it open as soon as possible. [Applause].

This has not been easy for Armenia, but even with closed borders to the east and west, Armenia has a northern border that is open to it through Georgia, and Armenia's economic growth is strong. Almost 14 percent last year, which is the fourth straight year of double digit growth. Construction is up 34 percent, and you can see it when you're in Yerevan. We know that your community is helping fuel this construction boom.

Agriculture is growing, 11 percent last year. Industrial production is growing, and inflation remains low.

The Armenian government has increased its ability to collect taxes. That and corporate taxes which increases government revenues which helps provide better services and the infrastructure for yet more growth in a virtuous cycle. We're seeing an increase in Armenian government expenditure, on education, science, and health. This investment in citizens will help bring a good future for Armenia.

The U.S.-Armenian relationship is continuing to deepen and our economic support is continuing. Since independence, the United States has contributed more than $1.5 billion of assistance. That's quite a bit of money for a country the size of Armenia. And many in the Armenian-American community have also made substantial financial contributions to, and investments in, Armenia as well.

Our assistance program, well much of it, is aimed at promoting economic reform to help create the conditions for Armenians to continue their economic growth in the best possible way.

There's more work to do. Tax collection is up, but you know better than I do how much of the economy remains underground. Corruption is a serious problem. Corruption is a tax on the poor and a tax on honest entrepreneurs. That is a drag. An economy saddled with corruption is moving forward with lead weights tied to each leg.

We want to see greater economic integration between Armenia and Georgia and Armenia and all the states of the Caucasus. We push this regularly, and I did so when I was in Baku. We would like to see greater integration. Now it is difficult in advance of a Nagorno-Karabakh solution, but we keep raising it, and we will keep raising it. It's good not only for Armenia; it would be good for Turkey and Azerbaijan as well.

Let me talk about regional security and military assistance. We do support Armenia's efforts to strengthen its relations with the Euro-Atlantic community. Armenia has a policy of complementarity, which means roughly balance in its relations with the West and the Russians. This is not a problem for us. We don't want to force Armenia to choose between its historic friends and its Western identity, but we do want our relations to grow. We do want our relations to grow, and we don't want barriers put in the way.

Our relations in the security field have grown. We value and appreciate Armenia's troop contributions in Iraq. There are 46 non-combatant soldiers serving there now. There are 34 Armenian peacekeepers in Kosovo. And we hope that Armenia will continue to do its part through NATO's Partnership for Peace to contribute to other operations in the future.

Armenia has increased its cooperation with NATO. The government is reforming its military in cooperation with the U.S. to make it more interoperable with NATO. Armenia is pursuing what NATO calls an individual partnership action plan with NATO. This is basically a chapeau that lets the Armenian military slowly but as fast as Armenia wants, grow closer to NATO so we can work together.

Frankly, I want to express my appreciation for the Assembly's encouragement last year to Armenia to complete its defense assessment. That cleared the way for deeper security cooperation between our two countries.

Now I know that some in your community, in the Armenian-American community, are concerned about U.S.-Azerbaijani military relations, so let me address this straight up. The fact is Azerbaijan has made contributions to the War on Terror and these contributions -- overflight rights, access to Azerbaijani bases, information sharing, law enforcement cooperation - are useful. Now Azerbaijan faces security threats not from Armenia, and when I was in Baku I repeated that Azerbaijan's security problem really doesn't come from Armenia, it comes from other countries. It's got a rough neighbor to the south, Iran. And it's on the Caspian Sea with a lot of oil and gas. Our security cooperation with and assistance to Azerbaijan is meant to improve Azerbaijan's posture against those threats, not against Armenia. I repeat. Not against Armenia.

President Bush has noted that to succeed in our own efforts, we need the support of our efforts to fight terrorism, we need the support and actions of friends and allies. We must join with others to deny the terrorists what they seek, which is safe haven, financial support, and the support and protection certain nation states historically have given them. So we do need to work with all the countries of the region on a counter-terrorist agenda.

But our assistance to Azerbaijan does not undermine our support for Armenian security, and it is not designed and will not be used for offensive purposes against Armenia. So we design our programs with Azerbaijan very carefully. Counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, programs to counter trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

Now let me mention a couple of words about energy security. In January of this year, disruptions of electricity and gas to Georgia affected Armenia, as well. After this episode, we're looking at ways to bolster energy security in the region and strengthen Armenia's energy independence. The key to doing this is to support market forces, to diversify energy supplies, and avoid monopolistic restrictions. We've been discussing this in NATO, we've been discussing this in the European Union and with key countries in the region. We will continue to look at ways in which the United States can support energy security for all the countries of the south Caucasus.

We are concerned by increased energy ties with Iran, and so we're looking at alternatives. We've talked to the Georgians about them.

Now let me conclude with discussion of a tough issue for all of us. April 24th is less than a month away. I'm not going to duck this issue.

The U.S. position on events of 1915 has not changed. We believe that a productive dialogue is the best way to establish a shared understanding of history that honors the victims of these horrific events, murders on a mass scale, killings without justification, deportations. Over 1.5 million people lost their lives, innocent victims. But we want to foster reconciliation and peace based on an understanding of history, not a denial of it. We believe that the tragedy of 1915, the killings, is of enormous human significance and its historical assessment should be determined not on the basis of politics, but introspection among civic leaders and scholars. This process has begun in Turkey where it needs to take place.

Now I know from experience and consultations with the Assembly and other groups that the Armenian American community has a different view, and I expect that you will express that view, and that is not for us - I would be surprised if you didn't, and I welcome the dialogue we've established. [Applause].

Voice: Horse manure.

Voices: Be quiet. Sit down.

Ambassador Fried: I will value even frank comments, but -- [Laughter]. Hopefully a dialogue can be serious.

Sitting here with us is my old friend John Evans, our Ambassador in Yerevan. He is the Ambassador, remains the Ambassador, has - [Applause and cheers].

Like all of us, we all serve at the pleasure of the President. Ambassador Evans came from Yerevan for the signing of the Millennium Challenge Account Compact this afternoon, and will be in the meeting this afternoon between Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Oskanian. There has been a great deal of speculation. I don't discuss personnel issues, but since my friend is sitting here, I thought I would recognize Ambassador John Evans. [Applause].

Now I gather there will be some time to take questions. I wouldn't be surprised by a frank exchange. [Laughter]. That doesn't bother me.

I appreciate the chance to meet with you and have a discussion of all issues, whether we agree or disagree. America is a free country, and I'm here to listen and to answer your questions the best I can.

Thank you for your attention. I'm glad to see that people were paying attention. [Laughter]. [Applause].

Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador Fried. You said in Armenia and the capital of Turkey that Armenians and Turks need to have courage on the issue. The United States has to have courage on the issue of the Armenian genocide. [Applause]. And that ambiguity out there in terms of denial, curriculum that is trying to be inserted in classrooms around this country, our government needs to be very clear about their role and mission on this issue.

Your first question: As the U.S. and EU applies increasing pressure on Iran with the prospects of confrontation grows, will the U.S. take concrete steps to ensure Armenia's security and economic stability? Will the U.S. guarantee that the border with Turkey will be open before there is conflict with Iran or potential conflict with Iran that would risk a border closing?

Ambassador Fried: That's a fair question, but I don't have to yet accept the premise that we are headed for a military confrontation with Iran because we are now focused on achieving a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. We are not going through the motions, we are serious about this. We do not believe that Iran is North Korea. We do not believe that Iran thrives on isolation. Iranian society does not want to be shunned by the world and its leaders to not reflect the consensus in that society, as far as we can tell. So I believe that our diplomatic efforts can bear fruit.

However, to be responsive to the question, we will continue to have a serious discussion with Armenia as our thinking develops. And as John Evans can tell you, this issue came up in our discussions a week and a half ago in Yerevon. We will continue to work with Armenia to make sure that its security is part of our thinking and integrated into our thinking. Can I guarantee that the border with Turkey will be open? I can't guarantee that, and to say that I could would not be honest. But I can say that we take Armenia's security seriously. Armenia didn't choose its neighborhood, but there you are. [Laughter].

We will continue to work to see to it that Armenia is not vulnerable, particularly on energy issues. And I did have explicit discussions in Ankara about a future in which Armenia, in which gas and oil flowed freely through Armenia from the Caspian without political hindrance, so we are beginning this dialogue.

Moderator: I'm sure you imagine I'm getting a few questions on Armenian genocide.

Ambassador Fried: I imagine. [Laughter].

Moderator: Why are third parties permitted to dictate America's foreign policy vis-à-vis Armenia and Cyprus?

Ambassador Fried: Third parties are not permitted to dictate our foreign policy, nor do they dictate our foreign policy. We have a policy which many of you disagree with. I understand. But we have a policy of seeking to encourage Turkey to reflect more seriously about subjects which have been taboo for generations in that country. I said earlier that process has begun in Turkey. You recall that the famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk spoke clearly about this. He is not the only Turk speaking out. As I said, this process has begun as Turkish society modernizes, and as it modernizes, as democracy in Turkey deepens, Turkey will have to go through what many other countries such as the United States have had to go through in our own history, which is looking back at the darker spots in our past.

With respect to the United States, those darker spots include things like slavery and racial discrimination, treatment of American Indians, and in my opinion, internment of American citizens of Japanese origin in camps in World War II. Those are painful subjects. Just as dealing with the history of the mass killings of Armenians is painful for Turkey. And by the way, I say this to my Turkish friends using the same words. We keep one set of books.

Now that process has begun in Turkey. It is certainly not going fast enough to satisfy you. It is not going fast enough to satisfy us. But this process has begun and it will, I hope, bring greater understanding to Turks of their own history.

We will continue to have a dialogue about this as April 24th approaches. I will not attempt to anticipate what the President will say. I do believe he will issue a statement on April 24th, in fact I can't believe there won't be one. And I expect, as we have in the past, to consult with the Armenian Assembly about this and to have a frank set of discussions before and after.

Moderator: How will the U.S. deal with Azerbaijan regarding, or how will it take to task, regarding the issue of the Armenian historical landmarks of the Cemetery of Djulfa that was destroyed by the Azerbaijanis?

Ambassador Fried: When I go to Baku and when U.S. officials go to Baku, we always raise issues of living - Not just issues of Nagorno-Karabakh, but issues of long-term peace in the south provinces. Now I would be happy to raise issues of Armenian historical sites in Azerbaijan. These historical sites, regardless of differences over Nagorno-Karabakh, need to be respected and need to be protected. This is a universal policy of the United States, and I look forward to hearing from you about some of these sites so that we can raise it with the Azerbaijani government. [Applause].

Moderator: How does the U.S. policy of promoting freedom and democracy fit into your policy towards resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Especially considering the democratic will of Nagorno-Karabakh to remain free?

Ambassador Fried: I don't want to get into the details of the shape of settlements under discussion. There is nothing worse than negotiating in public. But the philosophic premise behind the question is a good one and a fair one. That is how much weight do you give self-determination, which is clearly a factor at stake here? How much weight do you give issues of territorial integrity? And how much weight do you give to well, facts on the ground? All right? Now that is a difficult issue.

In my view, it is probably a mistake to try to apply rigid precedents to all similar issues. Nagorno-Karabakh is not the same as Kosovo, which is not the same as Abkhazia, which is not the same as Chechnya. These issues are individual, and they need to be handled individually. We are well aware that the will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh has to be respected. [Applause]. We are also aware that there are issues of territorial integrity and the challenge that we all face that Foreign Minister Oskanian and Foreign Minister Mammadyarov and those involved in trying to help an agreement, have to deal with all of these issues. And I am convinced that there can be solutions at hand.

I don't know when they will come about, but I think that 2006 is a good window for them, and I don't think that the people of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, or Azerbaijan deserve to live forever in a state of uncertainty.

Moderator: Why does real politik trump the moral position in recognizing the genocide, more in the U.S. than in France? If the U.S. wants to foster reconciliation and peace in the region it's true that introspection needs to be fostered within Turkey. With Turkey's export of denialist tactics can peace and truth really be achieved? And specifically if you could comment on a federal lawsuit in Massachusetts currently that denialist material be put into the genocide curriculum.

Ambassador Fried: I can't comment about the lawsuit. The United States government has never denied the events of 1915. We do not support, what was the phrase, export of denialist literature or positions. We do support efforts by Turkey to deal with its history more seriously.

As I said, this process has begun. It has not ended. Efforts such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were serious, and these were efforts in which Turkish, as well as Armenian scholars, were involved. It produced a serious look at those issues which we have recognized officially.

This is not an easy issue. It is not an easy issue for the United States government, and we are not at the end of the road on this issue. We will continue to urge our Turkish friends to face difficult issues of their past seriously, and we will urge Armenia to help the Turks make this possible without ever sacrificing historical truth or your position.

Now that is not an entirely satisfactory position for your community, but again, I value the advice and input and even the criticism from the Armenian American community and it [inaudible].

Moderator: Is there any truth to reports in the Atlantic Monthly that the U.S. is upgrading the Baku air bases for potential airstrikes on Iran?

Ambassador Fried: No. [Laughter].

Moderator: What is your position on recent reports that Ambassador Evans is being recalled because of his statements last year on the Armenian genocide issue?

Ambassador Fried: We all serve at the pleasure of the President. I won't discuss personnel issues. Ambassador Evans, as I said, is a friend of more than 20 years standing. He's our Ambassador. He's right here. He will be in the meetings today at the State Department, as I said. [Applause].

Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador Fried, for this very frank discussion, as always, and we thank you all for your attention and for participating. Thank you very much. [Applause].

ENDS

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