Mr. Speaker–this week–the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan–Haydar Aliyev–is visiting our nation’s capital. President Aliyev is scheduled to meet with President Clinton this morning at the White House. He will also be holding meetings with Secretary of State Albright and Energy Secretary Richardson.
I would like to take this opportunity–Mr. Speaker–to express my hope that President Clinton and the other officials in his Administration will use these meetings to urge President Aliyev to work in good faith for a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
In particular–it is imperative that Mr. Aliyev be urged to accept the direct participation of representatives from Karabakh in the negotiations. In the minds of many–the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is viewed as a bilateral dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
While these two countries must obviously be part of the negotiations and the final settlement–the people of Karabakh who have their own democratically elected government must have a seat at that table.
After all–it is their homeland and their lives that are at stake in this peace process. No one else should be allowed to make these life and death decisions for them.
Mr. Speaker–the United States is one of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group–the body under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the OSCE) charged with facilitating a negotiated settlement to this dispute.
More than a year ago–the US and our Minsk Group partners put forth a plan for resolving this conflict–known as the Common State approach.
Despite their serious reservations–both Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh previously accepted this framework as the basis for negotiations–while Azerbaijan rejected it. We don’t necessarily need to be wedded to this one approach for jump-starting the negotiations.
But we should use occasions like this week’s visit by President Aliyev to call for all sides to get back to the negotiating table–with no preconditions.
I expect President Aliyev to use this occasion to call for the lifting of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–a provision of US law that prohibits direct American government aid to Azerbaijan until that country lifts its blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
President Aliyev–backed up by the support of major oil companies–has been lobbying American officials to repeal Section 907.
In 1998–this Congress rejected an amendment to the Foreign Operations bill that would have repealed Section 907–and we must hold the line.
Azerbaijan has failed to meet the basic condition for lifting Section 907–namely that it take demonstrable steps to lift the blockades it has imposed on its neighbors. Such intransigence should not be rewarded. I call on our Administration to use this occasion to stress to the Azeri President that the ball is in his court–that the only way to lift the ban on US aid is for Azerbaijan to lift the blockade.
Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian have been meeting on a number of occasions at multi-lateral meetings where both countries are represented. I welcome these direct talks–and hope they will continue. Azerbaijan and Armenia must normalize their relations with one another.
They must work for greater economic integration–development of infrastructure and cooperation in other areas.
This is the path that President Aliyev must be encouraged to follow.
Indeed–the benefits to his country would be significant–by opening up to trade–investment and assistance.
But these benefits cannot begin to flow to Azerbaijan until Azerbaijan lifts its blockades against Armenia and Karabakh.
I truly hope Mr. Aliyev will hear this message–and not continue to believe that he can play the "oil card," trying to use Azerbaijan’s presumed oil reserves as a way of getting the US to sell out the principal behind Section 907.
Last week–at a White House ceremony to accept the credentials of Armenia’s new ambassador to the United States–Arman Kirakossian–President Clinton pledged to aid Armenia "to achieve a durable and mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh." President Clinton also praised Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev for "their willingness to act boldly for peace."
He stressed America’s commitment to helping Armenia establish democratic institutions and a market economy–and noted that the progress made by the Armenian people means that the US can shift our assistance from humanitarian aid to development projects. Unfortunately–the President’s FY2001 budget proposal actually calls for a 27 percent reduction in assistance to Armenia. Congress will have an opportunity to reverse this–and I intend to work hard to make sure the assistance is increased.
Finally–Mr. Speaker–I want to renew my call for Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian to be extended an invitation for a State Visit to Washington.
Last November–25 of my colleagues in this House joined me in a bipartisan basis in calling on President Clinton to extend the invitation to President Kocharian.
While President Aliyev’s current visit is not an official state visit–President Aliyev has been here on a state visit. President Kocharian–who was elected nearly two years ago–has yet to be accorded this honor. To solidify the growing bonds between the US and Armenia and to establish a better climate for achieving lasting peace–stability and economic growth in the region–I believe it is time for a state visit for President Kocharian.