U.S. Recognition of Artsakh is ‘not on the table,’ says NSA Chief Robert O’Brien
BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
United States National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien on Friday said that Azerbaijan was hesitant about an “unconditional” ceasefire in Karabakh and acknowledged Turkey’s involvement in the current war waged by Azerbaijan against Artsakh, saying Ankara’s role in a mediation is a “non-starter” for the U.S.
“Both sides must retain the ceasefire and both sides must go to the negotiation table without preconditions. This is particularly true of the Azerbaijanis who have been most hesitant about unconditional ceasefire,” said O’Brien who met with leaders of the Armenian-American community at an event organized by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger at the LA Arboretum on Friday.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the escalation of violence between Azerbaijan and Artsakh, especially in light of reports of strikes in areas of significant civilian populations,” said O’Brien. “The President has called on both sides to fully observe their obligations under international humanitarian laws including the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
“We are deeply troubled by Azerbaijan’s refusal to honor three separate ceasefire agreements in recent weeks and the continued campaign to spread misinformation to deflect their egregious actions,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. “I am grateful to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and United States Senator Mike Lee for engaging with our grassroots organizations and faith leaders who have done a tremendous job raising awareness on this pressing issue for the Armenian community.”
“Azerbaijan has used its oil money that it has gained over the last several years to buy more advanced weapons and they have technical and advisory support from Turkey,” O’Brien said, effectively announcing that the Trump Administration, which has called on “third parties” to stay out of the Karabakh conflict is aware of Ankara’s direct involvement against Artsakh.
“Despite Turkish denials that they made to me personally, there are credible reports that Turkey has deployed fighters from Syria’s opposition, the Syrian National Army,” added O’Brien in a tacit acknowledgement of what has widely announced about the Ankara-backed jihadists fighting alongside Azerbaijan’s soldier. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev last week told Fox News that those claims were “fake news.”
O’Brien, who was speaking while the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Jeyhun Bayramov were meeting in Geneva with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, discussed the deployment of peacekeepers or ceasefire observers, categorically ruling out a role for Turkey in that process.
“Any armed peacekeeping force should not involve Minsk Group Co-chair countries, including the U.S., or neighboring countries,” explained O’Brien.
“Any sort of Turkish mediation or peacekeeping role is not acceptable for the U.S., as well as Armenia, We believe both sides should accept Scandinavian peacekeepers and we are working with the Scandinavian governments to put together a peacekeeping force that could be deployed in the region to keep the ceasefire,” said the NSA chief.
Despite acknowledging Ankara’s involvement in the military aggression against Artsakh, as well as the the presence of mercenaries in combat, O’Brien, in response to a question, did not commit to any punitive action against Turkey or Azerbaijan, such as sanctions or halting of military sales. He instead said the Administration was “looking into options.”
O’Brien also told the gathering that U.S. recognition of Artsakh was “not on the table,” adding that the U.S. is taking a neutral role, despite the fact that it is one of three co-chairing countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, along with Russia and France.
Soon after the end of the meeting Armenian National Committee of America called on O’Brien to take decisive unilateral actions to stop Azerbaijani war crimes.
“Armenian American voters – casting their ballots in a closely contested Presidential race – deserve to know if President Trump is taking actions – all well within his Executive Branch powers – to recognize the independence of the Artsakh Republic, deny approval for new arms exports to Turkey, suspend the U.S. military aid program to Azerbaijan, and withdraw the Administration’s Section 907 waiver,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
ANCA National Board member Levon Kirakosian, who attended the meeting said that it was important to hold such meetings because they provided an opportunity for the Armenian community to express its concerns about Azerbaijan’s aggression and Turkey’s involvement, saying the more these matters are emphasized the more they may resonate at the White House.
As an example Kirakosian cited the withdrawal of the waiver of Section 907 was one of the issues that O’Brien said the administration was not considering as an option, but having heard the concerns of the Armenian community, the national security chief had pledged to “look into it.”
ANCA-Western Region Board chair Nora Hovsepian, who also attended the gathering, voiced concern about O’Brien’s insistence that the U.S. stay “neutral,” despite its co-chairing role in the Minsk Group.
“Our message to the ambassador [O’Brien], and through him the Administration, is that the U.S. should not take a neutral role,” said Hovsepian. “On the contrary, the United States should take the side of Armenia as the country that is being attacked.”
“We are deeply troubled by Azerbaijan’s refusal to honor three separate ceasefire agreements in recent weeks and the continued campaign to spread misinformation to deflect their egregious actions,” said Supervisor Barger in her opening remarks. “I am grateful to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and United States Senator Mike Lee for engaging with our grassroots organizations and faith leaders who have done a tremendous job raising awareness on this pressing issue for the Armenian community.”
She later expressed hope that having heard the concerns of the Armenian community, O’Brien and the Trump Administration will take decisive steps to bring an end to the fighting.
Barger visited Armenia as part of an ANCA-WR delegation last year.
Also speaking was Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who praised Armenians for their resilience and unity in pursuit of national interests.
Also attending the meeting alongside Kirakosian and Hovsepian were Michelle Kezirian from the Armenian Assembly, Talin Yacoubian from the AGBU, Western Primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Western Prelate Bishop Torkom Donoyan, Bishop Mikael Mouradian from the Armenian Catholic Eparchy, Reverend Berj Djambazian from the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, Maria Mehranian from Armenia Fund, and Aram Ordubegian of Arent Fox.