SAN FRANCISCO–In a wide-ranging discussion with Bay Area Armenian-Americans–US Special Negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh–Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh–on August 2–spoke about the progress of the peace talks and answered pointed questions about US interests in the region–failure of the US to recognize the Armenian Genocide–and the influence of Turkey on the US approach to these issues.
Cavanaugh said the Karabakh negotiations are at a point of "very intense engagement," so that he and his office are kept very busy–with 60 percent of their time on the road–in and around Armenia. He laid out the United States’ goals in the area–saying "What we seek is stability–prosperity–and democracy–and the maintenance of independence."
The meeting–hosted by the Bay Area Armenian National Committee and the Armenian Assembly–drew an audience of 75. Cavanaugh said that after several peace proposals made by the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe were rejected by the parties to the conflict–the leaders were encouraged to come up with their own solution. For more than a year–the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been having direct dialogue with one another. "They’ve been very serious in their engagement," said Cavanaugh–"and they have been very frank in their engagement."
"Both presidents have agreed that there has to be compromise on both sides–but both need the promise of a secure future," said Cavanaugh. When asked about the possibility of Armenia and Karabakh giving up land for peace–Cavanaugh refused to discuss details of the negotiations–but he said there wouldn’t be talk about giving up "pieces–without concessions in return."
He described the conflict as "politically volatile," comparing it to the negotiations surrounding the future of Jerusalem–in which the meaning of a single word can strongly effect positions on both sides. He said the entire issue is very complicated. "There’s very difficult history. There’s very difficult feelings," said Cavanaugh. Any settlement "has to have the greater blessing of the people." Considering the possibility that one of the presidents dies or is killed after a settlement is reached–the settlement could only hold if "more people embrace it."
To questions about the influence of American oil interests in the peace process–Cavanaugh denied any connection. "What we hope to find is peace. We never sought to tie pipelines into that." While stating it’s true that the US hopes to develop Caspian oil through multiple oil routes and that the oil pipelines can only work when there is stability–he said–"The oil lobby is not a factor. I meet with no one who deals with oil."
While praising the aid to Armenia and Karabakh provided by the Armenian Diaspora–as well as that of the US government–he stressed the need for more. "What we do is not enough–and what you do is not enough." Cavanaugh said Armenia needed more private investment–but that this was tied to the peace process. "The message that we hear is that the easiest way to get investment is to find a solution to the conflict."
Cavanaugh also spoke about his efforts to rally international organizations that will help in the rebuilding efforts–once peace is achieved. "The message from them is that if the leaders find a settlement they can agree on–then the world would jump in to help it take hold." When asked about whether the US seeks to bribe Armenia’s into a settlement with promises of private investment and international aid–Cavanaugh said he was very sensitive to concerns of bribery–and he tried to be as careful as possible in steering away from that perception. He said that if a settlement is reached– he thought it would be the right thing to do–for the world to contribute to the region’s maintenance of peace with various kinds of aid.
Addressing questions about the immorality of the policy of "territorial integrity," which seeks to leave present boundaries unchanged–Cavanaugh said–"It’s hard to say what’s wrong and right." Although acknowledging Stalin’s policies of changing borders within the Soviet Union in order to pit nations against each other–he said–"There’s little support in Europe to change borders."
The issue of the US and Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide as being an impediment to peace in the region was raised. Cavanaugh said–"The current policy of the United States of America is a policy of long-standing and changing that policy will make achieving pace more difficult." He said that while the White House has made its "solemn feelings" clear–"Labels and words associated with that impede achieving peace in the region." Confronting the many audience concerns raised about this position–Cavanaugh said–"I’m sure it’s an answer that makes you uncomfortable." When pressed about the illegitimacy of some of the US’s dealings with Turkey–Cavanaugh said–"I’d refer you to the foreign policy creators for answers on how and why we deal with Turkey the way we do."
Cavanaugh expressed his pleasure on meeting with community members and his hope to visit again to provide personal updates on the situation.