NEW YORK–US Rep. Frank Pallone–Jr. (D-NJ)–co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–spoke Monday on the effects of the ongoing dual blockades of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan at a United Nations conference in New York City.
The subject of Pallone’s speech at the UN’s 56th annual conference of international non-governmental organizations–titled "Human Security and Dignity: Fulfilling the Promise of the United Nations," was the current blockades against Armenia that were initiated by Azerbaijan in 1991 and Turkey in 1993.
"This blockade is not sanctioned by the UN or any other international organization," Pallone said Monday. "In fact–organizations such as the European Union (EU) have repeatedly called on Turkey to lift its blockade against Armenia. The EU–in particular–has made normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations a precondition for Turkey’s accession to the organization. Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only Council of Europe (CE) states that are engaged in a blockade against a fellow CE state."
Pallone referred to a report from the US Department of State that he and the co-chair of the Armenian Caucus US Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)–requested last year detailing the economic impact that the Turkish blockade has had on Armenia. The report–titled "Economic Impact of Turkish/Armenian Border Closure and Diplomatic Contacts with Both Parties on This Issue," highlights the State Department’s view on the Turkish blockade. The report specifically states: "The United States has long pressed for the opening of the border and the free flow of trade in the region."
The Congressman also pointed to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent attempts to press Turkey on the blockade issue–including his April 2 visit to Ankara–Turkey–and his July meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister in Washington–DC.
"The State Department report also references an earlier World Bank report that listed this blockade as a significant obstacle to the development of the South Caucasus region," Pallone said. "The World Bank report makes a very rough estimate of regional trade normalization–meaning open borders with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. The World Bank found that open borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan could result in significant increases in Armenia’s exports ($269-342 million) and GDP likely would rise 30-38 percent on a one-time basis."
"The best way to have neighbors in conflict speak and work with one another again is to give them incentives to do so," Pallone said. "The US Congress has in the past appropriated funds for infrastructure needs that cross boundaries between Armenia–Turkey and Azerbaijan. These are a form of confidence building measures that can be used on a variety of things–including repairing and reestablishing old rail links between the three countries."
"It is my hope that the Caucasus’ nations can get over the hump of post-Soviet conflict and enter a new era of economic freedom," Pallone added. "I would eventually like to see a customs union similar to the European Union in this region that would serve to foster good relations–the economic development of all countries–and most importantly–the betterment of the lives of all citizens."
Pallone said he has pressed for the economic development of Armenia–in part–to help facilitate the development of the entire Caucasus region. Currently in Congress–Pallone is sponsoring legislation that would grant Armenia permanent and normal trade relations with the US–and put the US in full compliance with their WTO obligations to Armenia. Pallone has also pressed the administration to establish an agreement to eliminate double taxation between the US and Armenia.