WASHINGTON (Combined Sources)–US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Washington with Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian on Tuesday for closed door talks that reportedly focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and Armenia’s ongoing dialogue with Turkey.
Underscoring renewed U.S. hopes for a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, Clinton also held a separate meeting with her Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, later in the day. Clinton also met with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country has been mediating between Turkey and Armenia.
Before their meeting, Nalbandian and Clinton briefly spoke to reporters, praising the ongoing development of relations between the US and Armenia and stressing a joint desire to strengthen those bilateral relations.
Nalbandian thanked the Obama Administration and the State Department for their “constant efforts” in support of Armenia’s normalization process with Turkey and the “normalization process with Turkey and… [the] peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
“This is the main message of my visit to Washington,” Nalbandian said. “Our meeting is a good opportunity to move forward our bilateral agenda and to discuss a wide range of issues. We are determined to strengthen, to deepen, to enhance our friendly partnership with the United States.”
Clinton, for her part, underscored the “very lasting and durable” relationship between the United States and Armenia, as well as the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment “to broadening it, deepening it, [and] working with Armenia to assist them in their continued development and aspirations.”
Neither official made public statements after the meeting. A spokesman for the State Department, Robert Wood, indicated that it was dominated by the Karabakh peace process and Turkish-Armenian relations.
“It was a very, very good meeting and constructive,” Wood told a daily news briefing in Washington. “We have a lot of interests with Armenia, and we look forward to improving and strengthening the bilateral relationship as we go forward.”
According the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Clinton and Nalbandian specifically discussed Thursday’s meeting in Prague between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hope that the two leaders will further narrow their remaining differences over a framework peace accord put forward by the mediators in November 2007.
A ministry statement quoted Clinton as saying that she will continue to lend “full support” to the conflicting parties in their efforts to work out a compromise solution to the Karabakh dispute. It said Clinton also pledged continued U.S. support for Armenia’s and Turkey’s efforts to normalize bilateral relations and again described as “historic” a fence-mending “roadmap” announced by the two governments on April 22.
With both Ankara and Yerevan remaining tight-lipped about details of the agreement, it remains unclear whether it commits Turkey to establishing diplomatic relations and reopening its border with Armenia before the Karabakh conflict is resolved. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Ghazinian said on Wednesday that the roadmap will be made public only “after the document is ready.” She told journalists that Turkish-Armenian talks are still going on.
President Serzh Sarkisian is expected to also meet his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Prague that starts on Thursday.
According to the Foreign Ministry statement, Yerevan’s overtures to Ankara were also praised by James Jones, U.S. President Barack Obama’s top national security adviser. Jones met with Nalbandian later on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s talks highlight the new US administration’s hopes that the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks will produce a breakthrough soon. The presidents of the two nations will meet in Prague on Thursday to try to bridge their remaining differences over the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the American, French and Russian mediators.
Speaking during congressional hearings in Washington late last month, Clinton said Baku and Yerevan could hammer out a framework peace accord “in the next months.” She discussed the Karabakh conflict as well as efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations in a phone call with Nalbandian last week.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, Washington’s top Karabakh negotiator, admitted over the weekend that the timing of the two meetings is “not a coincidence.”
“President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have pointed out in their statements that they want to achieve a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process,” he told the Azerbaijani APA news agency. “That is why the two foreign ministers will meet the secretary of state separately.”
Bryza also said that the success of the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement would increase chances of Karabakh peace. “If the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement moves forward we might see Armenia act more constructively in the negotiations,” he said.