BAKU: Heritage Foundation Expert: Strategic Partnership With Turkey


Jan 13 2010

Heritage Foundation expert: Strategic partnership with Turkey is more
important for U.S. than ties with Armenia

Day.Az interview with head of Heritage Foundation’s Russia office
Yevgeni Volkov.

It is believed that following August 2008 events in the South Caucasus,
U.S resigned itself to the fact that Russia is a major player in
the region, and therefore it has markedly reduced its activity in
settlement of the Karabakh conflict. How would you comment on that?

One should not exaggerate significance of the August events for the
U.S. position in the Karabakh issue. In my opinion, the U.S. realized
that Russia wants to play a leading role in this region. However,
this does not mean that America has withdrawn the question of how to
maintain and increase its influence in the South Caucasus because of
the strategic importance of this region for political and economic
interests of the United States, particularly in terms of the energy
impact and U.S. energy security, from the agenda.

So I think that decline in the U.S. activity is not related to its
recognizing Russia’s dominant role. I think the U.S. does not see a
pressing need to intervene in the settlement and contribute to it,
primarily because Washington is extremely busy with American security
concerns. This is, of course, Afghanistan. As you know, today it is
the most painful point for Americans which absorbs huge political,
financial and military resources. That Obama has recently announced
increasing number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and attempts to
involve new political leverages indicates that Afghanistan is top
priority in American politics.

The second point that also affects U.S. policy in the region is Iran.

The fact that the Iranian nuclear program is becoming more and more
real and it requires a response from the international community,
including possible sanctions is already a serious problem for the
United States. It will certainly have impact on U.S. activity in
other directions.

Iraq is also a country where tension prevails along with some
progress. U.S. troops remain there, although Obama has announced
the withdrawal.

The U.S. politics is experiencing a lot of problems which require very
considerable resources. So, the United States is simply physically
unable to get actively involved in resolving the Karabakh conflict.

This does not mean that the U.S. will not be watching this process
and will not be involved. But one should not expect any particular
activity in this regard.

Moreover, I think, for Obama and his administration, conclusion of
any treaty in this area is not just a winning card. Any progress in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or main direction of relations with Russia
to conclude a treaty on strategic offensive weapons are more important.

So, such a decrease in activity is due to other priorities of American
foreign policy.

How do you assess Turkey’s peacekeeping efforts undertaken in
the past year towards the normalization of the situation around

I think Turkey’s peacekeeping efforts in this regard are certainly
linked to Ankara’s attempts to increase its influence in the region.

Ankara took failure of the European Union to begin country’s
integration process into the European Union with an offense.

Currently, Turkey is trying to increasingly play the role of regional
leader, including in those regions which are adjacent to its borders.

So, I think that Turkey will continue a dialogue with Azerbaijan and
relations with Armenia, and will seek to play a more active role
because it makes Ankara’s position even stronger in the region as
a whole, and to some degree vis a vis the EU, since it highlights
Turkey’s role as a civilized, active state, which is able to focus not
only on the East, but also in countries which are part of the OSCE,
such as Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Can the U.S. president recognize the "Armenian genocide" in April
this year under influence of the Armenian lobby obviously spoiling
relations with its strategic ally Turkey?

I believe this is a complicated issue. Certainly, the Armenian lobby
is pressing the White House, but we should not forget that there
is substantial Turkish lobby. U.S. considers Turkey its main ally
in the Middle East. The Turkish army is a key factor of stability
for NATO in this region, which provides control of many countries
opposed to the U.S. I am referring to Iran, but the Turkish army,
certainly has an impact on situation in Iraq.

Therefore, I believe that Washington does not want to spoil relations
with Turkey recognizing the "1915 genocide." I think that this issue
will once again put off since partnership with Ankara is extremely
important for Washington. In my opinion, it is more important than
relations with the Armenian lobby and Yerevan at the state level.

What is the future of Armenian-Turkish reconciliation and ratification
of relevant protocols by parliaments of the two countries in case
the status quo in relations between Baku and Yerevan is maintained?

I think ultimately too much will depend on how the settlement process
will evolve. I do not exclude that such ratification is possible in
the case the status quo is maintained. But there are a lot of unknowns,
which are connected with domestic factors, such as internal political
situation and balance of power in Ankara.

I believe that this process will also be difficult. Similarly, it
will be difficult also for Armenia, which, in general, is seeking at
least some support from Turkey in settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh

So, I think that one should not expect any breakthrough.

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