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LOOKING AHEAD
20.05.2009

Anton Krayev

THE DOUBLE FORFEIT

Washington deprives Armenia and Israel from a special political status

A HANGOVER AFTER THE ISTANBUL LUNCH

On May 7, the US State Department proposed to slash $12 million from the earmarked donations to Armenia in the current year, and $8 million (the whole amount) from the unrecognized (Armenia-backed) republic of Nagorny Karabakh. In 2010, Washington is going to provide the oil-rich Azerbaijan a twice larger amount of assistance in military training than to the smaller and landlocked Armenia. Earlier, Washington carefully maintained balance between the two post-Soviet states that had collided in a bloody and exhausting war conflict in early 1990s. The policy shift happened a day before the promptly organized conference in Istanbul where the transport ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia discussed the future railroad, connecting the Black Sea with the Caspian via Kars, Tbilisi, and Baku, bypassing Armenia.

Originally, the idea was to build the road along a shorter route through the Armenian town of Gumri. This was the purpose of the deal Barack Obama advertised in Istanbul two days after the NATO summit, and the subject of a special conference on the "dialogue of civilizations" involving Turkish and Armenian politicians and diplomats (where the newly-elected NATO General Secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, tumbled down from the stairs after a heavy lunch).

The deal of opening the Turkish-Armenian border, discussed for several months earlier, was buttressed with Barack Obama's promise of Turkey's accelerated entry into NATO. The carrot was followed with a stick: Washington reminded that Turkey may receive, or not receive the earmarked $45 billion loan from the IMF.

The deal aroused fury in Azerbaijan, as Washington did not coordinate the agreement with Baku – probably hoping that the Azeri will be too happy to enjoy the advantages of the same route to object. Moreover, Turkish papers leaked the version that the deal involves a protocol suggesting that Armenian troops withdraw from five earlier occupied districts of Azerbaijan. Naturally, these reports aroused a row also in Armenia.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's President Ilkham Aliyev traveled to Moscow, signing a deal on sale of the major amount of domestic gas from the Caspian shelf to Russia's Gazprom. This move was quite untimely, happening right on the eve of the diversification conference in Baku. At the same conference, Turkish President Abdullah Gul demonstratively called Aliyev his brother, thus openly challenging Obama's deal into the face of US Special Representative Richard Morningsar.

So, that was Turkey and Azerbaijan that behaved with outspoken arrogance, in fact ruining the deal. Why was then Armenia snubbed?

It is true that Armenia is a member of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, and hosts a Russian military base redeployed from Georgia. But the Republic of Armenia had been pursuing a multivector foreign policy, complying with NATO's Partnership for Peace and related programs, and maintaining close relations not only with Moscow but also with Tbilisi. The multilateral Minsk Group, formed in order to reach concord between the two conflicting states, used to avoid any bias in favor of one of the sides Ц at least until 2007, when the US representative in the group, Matthew Bryza, married Turkish-American scholar Zeino Baran.

Some authors believe that Armenia's only fault was the decision to refrain from involvement in NATO maneuvers at the Georgian coastline that started on May 7. But Armenia was the last of the six states that sabotaged the maneuvers, reporting about the decision shortly before they started (the fifth was Switzerland). By that time the railroad deal had already collapsed, along with the Azeri-Armenian territorial swap required to open the shortest route also for the Nabucco pipeline project, in the framework of the so-called Southern Corridor.

NETAHIAHU CHEATS UKRAINE

It is noteworthy that Armenia was snubbed twice, and the second blow was far heavier. On the Commemoration Day of the 1915 massacre of Armenians in Eastern Turkey, Barack Obama did not name the historical tragedy as genocide, though the whole US Armenian community had been expecting him to do that. The coincidence of the border deal with the Commemoration Day was quite untimely, but Washington neglected the implications.

The discussion of the Armenia tragedy took place also in Jerusalem. On May 6, MPs from the leftist Meretz Party Ц the traditional lobbyists of the Armenian cause Ц raised the issue. But Gilad Erdan, Environment Minister in the ruling rightist coalition, informed the Knesset on behalf of the government that the recognition of the Armenian genocide is impossible. Michael Kleiner, an MP from the rightist Herut Party, emphasized that no tragedy in the world could be compared to the Holocaust.

This news was unpleasant not only for Yerevan but for Kiev, as the Ukrainian leadership had developed a huge international propagandist campaign to describe the 1933 famine as a crime organized by Iosif Stalin against the Ukrainian people (though the famine struck the rural population across the whole USSR). Ironically, it was PM Binyamin Netanyahu who had reportedly agreed to recognize the Ukrainian genocide ("holodomor" in January 2007, when he was visited by Ukraine's opposition leader (now also PM) Yulia Timoshenko.

More surprisingly, the rejection of Armenian demands was followed with a diplomatic gesture towards Azerbaijan. On May 7, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived at the EU Eastern Partnership Conference in Prague where both Armenian and Azeri leaders took part. The only person with whom he negotiate there was Azerbaijan's President Ilkham Aliyev. Expressing his especially warm attitude towards Azerbaijan, Mr. Lieberman informed about the intention of President Shimon Peres to visit Baku.

Unfortunately for Mr. Aliyev, Azerbaijan's First TV Channel reproduced an interview taken by an Israeli website from an anonymous veteran of Mossad who had spent years in the Caucasus. The veteran claimed that Baku, in fact, is a very convenient playground for Israeli special services. "Azerbaijan is a secular country", he added, "and the number of mosques is comparable to that of churches and synagogues (for the Azeri audience, this calculation sounded stunning: only 32 of the 533 religious communities of Azerbaijan are non-Islamic). At the same time, Iran is trying to include Azerbaijan into the zone of its influence. Besides, Tehran blackmails Baku, not allowing Azerbaijan to open an embassy in Jerusalem and threatening in this case to block Azerbaijan's access to Nakhichevan. Meanwhile, 30% of oil, imported into Israel, is shipped along the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline---"

Referring thus to Israel's own interest in the Southern Corridor (displayed during the last month also in enhancement of Israeli diplomacy in Turkmenistan), the anonymous diplomat mentioned also about Israeli-Azeri cooperation in military-industrial affairs. Months before, Jirair Arutunyan, ex-chair of the American Armenian Assembly (AAA), associated Israel's excessive diplomacy in Baku with sales of weapons.

This leakage was hardly accidental: in a similar way, Mr. Lieberman had just tried to pressure European governments in his trip across Europe, selecting three states known for most intensive economic cooperation with Iran Ц Italy, Austria, and Germany. In Rome, he encountered a lukewarm reaction. In Vienna, the major paper, Die Presse, characterized him as a "rightist boor". But Mr. Lieberman was convinced that his flight-forward diplomacy (involving a "threat" that the EU will be excommunicated from Mideast conciliation talks) served as a necessary prelude to his PM's visit to Washington, scheduled for May 17.

KEEP QUIET, AND SAY DITTO

Lieberman's "boorish" diplomacy was triggered with the earlier trip of two top State Dept officials, Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, to Damascus. The US diplomats (both of Jewish origin) were reported to deliver a "carrot" to Syria that would distract it from cooperation with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. But Jerusalem was dissatisfied: rumors were spread that this carrot is the Golan Heights.

Definitely, Mr. Netanyahu could wait until May 17 to receive a direct explanation from the US President. But instead, his ministers launched a massive campaign against European-Iranian cooperation across Europe. At the same time, rightist Israeli websites reported about renewed Israeli commitment to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.

Richard Morningstar, the very person who had successfully promoted the implementation of the long-stalled Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, hardly expected this development. As recently as on April 26 at the energy policy conference in Sofia, he admitted the possibility of Iran's involvement in US-backed alternative gas pipeline projects, providing Europe "independence" from Russia's Gazprom. Moreover, Iran was invited to this, as well as to the next (Prague) conference on the subject. Iranian representatives had been invited to the Munich security conference as well. It was no secret that Washington was courting the moderate ex- Majlis speaker Ali Laridjani.

However, on May 9, on the background of Lieberman's excessive activity, incumbent Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed his bid for Presidency for a new term. Hopes that under severe economic pressure emerging from the collapse of oil prices, the radical leader would cave in and step down, did not come true.

Shimon Peres, who was then visiting Washington, was met coldly. British media ridiculed the Israeli president over hyping the Iranian aggressive plans. On May 6, Deputy Secretary of State Rose Gottemueller urged India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was thus made clear that Israel is not any longer an exception from global rules. Next day, Washington Times disclosed a secret agreement struck in 1969 by Richard Nixon and Golda Meir which guaranteed that the United States closed its eyes on Israeli military nuclear research and development. The paper quoted Bruce Riedel, ex-director on Middle East and South Asia at the National Security Council: "In case we are going to reach a serious agreement with Iran, Israel will have to get out of the underground. Policy, based on double standards, will fail sooner or later".

The blow against Israel was especially severe as Ц similarly to the case of Armenia Ц it was delivered on the eve of the V-Day. The Holocaust was historically known as the key justification for establishing Israeli statehood in Palestine.

However, the reaction of Israeli media was rather embarrassed than furious. On the eve of the scheduled visit of Binyamin Netanyahu to Washington, where his meeting with Barack Obama was limited to only one hour, Maariv prompted to the PM that he should "keep quiet and say ditto". Netanyahu followed the advice, and promised to restart negotiations on Palestinian statehood (which he had openly sabotaged) "immediately". A generous Obama prolonged the conversation for one more hour.

As it could be expected, Israeli websites immediately launched a hysteric over Hezbollah's plans to attack Israel, with reference to a recent statement of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, while Haaretz operatively figured out that Avidgor Lieberman has outpaced Netanyahu in personal popularity. However, Washington responds to hysterical ultimatums in a most painful way: with demonstrative indifference.

GETTING RID OF SPLITTING HEADACHE

The simultaneous disgrace of Armenia and Israel will definitely acquire a lot of interpretations. Most probably, a chorus of pro-Israeli analysts in US, Europe and Russia will associate this coincidence with Barack Obama's second name Hussein. However, Mr. Lieberman's flirt with Baku indicates that this interpretation in nonsensical.

One more coincidence is that both the US Armenian lobby Ц represented by Nancy Pelosi Ц and the Israeli rightists have got into a conflict with CIA, though on different subjects. The question is to what extent Obama's White House is dependent on the views of the intelligence community.

A most simple, though not yet publicly discussed explanation could be derived from comparison of Israeli and Armenian policy in the Middle East and the Caucasus. It is in fact strikingly similar: both states have occupied lands of their neighbors, and both have deliberately sabotaged innumerous efforts of conciliation in the region, using the tragedies they had themselves suffered decades before as a universal excuse. Both have used extensive diaspora networks to promote their cause with a similar pattern of ultimatums. Both have recently expressed commitment to join international security organization, despite unresolved border problems. A prominent Armenian analyst confessed to me years ago: "We don't need Karabakh to be recognized independent, as in this case, the world would forget about the Armenian cause". This behavior could be tolerated for years and decades before, especially when both ethnic communities were instrumental for undermining the USSR. But in today's atmosphere, this behavior arouses nothing but headache.

On the background of the crisis, smaller nations are generally ignored by major players: this is obvious in the case of the Baltic States, as well as in the decision of Brussels to reject a stabilizing loan for non-eurozone countries. Armenia and Israel used to have a special status among smaller nations. But this status is too costly for global strategies. Mr. Lieberman's intervention into the Washington-Tehran poker game is regarded as a nasty "monkey wrench" in the new-built machine of the US Democratic foreign policy Ц similarly to Armenia's reluctance to cave in on the "Southern corridor".

The demotion of two special small nations to the status of "ordinary" small nations is likely to result in a range of implications beyond official policy. The Israeli and Armenian shadowy communities that had enjoyed a relatively special approach as well may undergo the same treatment as their underworld partners. One can expect a great re-division of the diamond and weapon markets. No exception means no exception.


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