Special Briefing
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York City
September 28, 2009


MR. KELLY: Well, good afternoon. Welcome to another briefing here at the UN General Assembly. My name is Ian Kelly. We have with us Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon, and he will give you a readout of three meetings that we’ve had over the last few days, a meeting with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammadyarov, and then today, of course, we had meetings – the Secretary had meetings with the Armenian foreign minister and then with the Turkish foreign minister.

So, unfortunately, Mr. Gordon only has about 20 minutes since he’s got to catch a plane to go back to Washington. So he’ll make some brief remarks and then open it up to your questions.

Okay. Mr. Gordon.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. Hi, everybody. Thanks, Ian. I will indeed just give a very brief readout, and then look forward to your questions.

It was on Friday that the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan. She underscored the United States continued strong support for the Nagorno-Karabakh process. Also in the meeting was our new Minsk Group co-chair – that is to say, representative to those talks Ambassador Robert Bradtke, a highly experienced diplomat whose designation in this job underscores how keen we are to see progress on that front. The Secretary also raised the important questions of human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan, including the case of the bloggers who were recently beaten up and arrested. And she underscored our interest in that case and our interest in seeing an open and fair process.

This morning, she met with Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian and she stressed our very strong support for the continued Turkey-Armenia normalization process. She made clear that, for the United States, that is a process that should move forward without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe. She also raised the issue of democratization in Armenia. She welcomed the government’s recent release of political prisoners and underscored that that’s an important issue to the United States and it would facilitate our full partnership, something that she stressed – that we cooperate and value our partnership with Armenia on a range of issues, and wanted to see that move forward.

Meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu just now; the Secretary and the foreign minister discussed a very wide range of issues. The U.S.-Turkish partnership is characterized by its depth and its breadth, and so the ministers, I think, reflecting that, talked about Turkey-Armenia, and again, she stressed our support for that process. They talked about Cyprus, energy security, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iran, Middle East peace, and probably some other issues that I’m forgetting because the agenda was indeed so full. But as I say, the agenda items reflect the breadth of our relationship, of our strong relationship with Turkey.

Why don’t I just stop with that and look forward to your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a quick one on (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sorry – yeah, yeah. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two things. One, in the discussion with Turkey, did the – did anything come up regarding – relating to Turkey’s plans to bring the Goldstone report on Israeli actions in Gaza before the Security Council, which I understand they’ve planned to do? And second, did anybody get anything on the Afghan meeting?

MR. KELLY: We can talk about that afterwards, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: And the answer to the first question is no.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask – I mean, you talk about continued support for the normalization process. But you know, the Turkish prime minister said yesterday that they were going to sign this deal on October 10th. Is that your understanding?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’ll leave any announcements about signing to the parties.

QUESTION: Well, they already did.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well --

QUESTION: I’m looking at this right here, “Erdogan said Sunday that the deal would be signed on October 10th to establish diplomatic ties.”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, I saw he said that and I’ll leave any comments about signings or schedules to --

QUESTION: Well, my question is – well, I mean, if you’re talking about – if she’s expressing support, I mean, haven’t they done it already?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, no. What they have done is – first of all, it was April 22nd when they announced that they had agreed on a normalization process. And then on August 31st, the two sides put out a statement announcing that they had reached agreement on protocols, and they released those protocols, which are now out in the public. And they said that the protocols would be signed and submitted to parliaments within six weeks, that they would begin political negotiations within their domestic frameworks, talk to political parties, the public, and so on. And then following that political consultation process, there would be – the protocols would be signed and submitted to parliament.

That’s the process that we support that is designed to lead to normalization between the two countries – establishment of diplomatic relations, opening a border.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, because it’s been announced and you said it’s going to be on October 10th, is there still – does the U.S. still have some concern that it might not --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, it’s just – it’s not for us to announce.

QUESTION: Let me just – but tiptoeing around – are you worried that this might not happen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. We are pleased at the progress --

QUESTION: Well, whatever the date is, forget it; I mean, are you --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s right. There are things still to be finalized as to the details of a signature and submission to parliament. We are encouraged that the process is moving forward, and I’m just simply saying that we’re leaving – this is a Swiss-mediated process between Turkey and Armenia, and it’s for them to announce details on signings and so on.

QUESTION: A quick clarification?

QUESTION: A quick question. Turkish media --

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of why – I mean, it really does sound as if, you know, given that she said reasonable timeframe – you repeated it --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you’re afraid it’s going to slide. Are you afraid that they’re not going to meet their own six-week deadline, which would be October the 15th?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Look, this is a difficult process that faces some political opposition in both places, and it’s hard for both governments. If it wasn’t hard, they would have normalized relations a long time ago. And so when we say reasonable timeframe, we mean just that: that it’s not just the process that we want to see – we welcome the process; but we also want to see a conclusion to the process, and that’s what we’re underscoring when we say that.

QUESTION: And when the Madame Secretary spoke with Armenian foreign minister and when she said that, actually, the talks should continue without any precondition --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- what was their reaction? And my second question is, did the U.S. ask for additional peacekeepers or NATO soldiers in Afghanistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, on the second, there wasn’t a detailed discussion of troop commitments to Afghanistan.

On the first, as you know, the Armenian Government itself has long underscored that this should move ahead without preconditions and in a reasonable timeframe. So that is their view of it, as it is ours.

QUESTION: Just to spell out preconditions, you mean that the Armenians don’t stipulate that the Turks recognize the genocide? That’s the key obstacle.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I mean, no preconditions means no preconditions on either side. There are lots of things that one could try to link this process to, and what we are saying is that the process is inherently valuable, that we think that Turkey-Armenian normalization is a good thing, and it shouldn’t wait for other things to get done or be linked to other things; it should go ahead.

QUESTION: What are the broader implications for the region once they do sign this deal? I mean, there’s Azerbaijan; that’s part of the equation. Does it bring stability and prosperity to the region? Does it take us in that direction?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes. I mean, that is the point. Armenia, without an open border with Turkey, is isolated. We saw during the war in Georgia in August 2008 that it could be even further isolated when negative things happen in the region. And a normal relationship with Turkey would really be a historic development that would benefit the people of both countries today. It would facilitate trade between them. And so we actually do think that there is a historic opportunity in the region.

I mentioned in the context of the Secretary’s meeting with the Azerbaijani foreign minister the Nagorno-Karabakh process, which is also going ahead. If we could succeed on these multiple tracks, we would really take a major step towards peace and stability in the Caucasus, energy corridor across the Caucasus, and prosperity in the region. So that’s why we strongly support these --

QUESTION: There’s no immediate benefit for Nagorno-Karabakh, obviously. There’s no by-product from this. From the normalization between these two countries, there’s no benefit. It’s not going to smooth the process with Azerbaijan. It’s going to maybe make it worse (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: What we’ve said – and that’s, again, this issue of no linkages and no preconditions – we think Turkey-Armenia would benefit the two countries in and of itself.

QUESTION: Turkish Radio and Television, (inaudible) from Washington, D.C. Speaking about preconditions, Armenian president is planning a visit to Turkey for a Turkish-Armenian football game, and there’s – they are complaining about that. Without opening a broader gate, Armenia and Turkey, the president is not going to come to Turkey to watch this match. So is there anything about that statement about preconditions, I mean, even to visit Turkey and, you know, see a football match?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah.

QUESTION: So president – the Turkish president went there and watched a game there, so is there anything on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I understand that the Armenian president has been invited to Turkey for the return football match. We think it would be a good thing if he attended it, reciprocating the attendance of the Turkish president at the match when it was in Armenia. And you’ll have to ask him under what circumstances he would go or not go. It would be a good sign and further evidence of the two countries coming together if he went to the football match.

QUESTION: Did the Iran issue come to the table? Did you ask in any way for Turkey to kind of mediate between the Western world and Iran?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Iran, as I mentioned, was discussed, and the Secretary had a chance to underscore the way we’re thinking about it. Foreign Minister Davotuglu had a chance to talk about his own recent visit to Iran, so they exchanged views on it. But that’s about all I’ll say about it.

QUESTION: Can you sketch out for us what are the other difficulties, other than the question of the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s stance on that, that could potentially get in the way of a signature of the agreements?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, I don’t – it’s not in my interest to try to think of things that will get in the way of a signature. As I said, there – this – for decades, Turkey and Armenia have not had relations with each other, and there is – there are deep historical resentments, territorial questions, linkages to other issues – all of which make it difficult for the sides to move ahead, and we should applaud their efforts so far to overcome these. And for both governments there are people within each country that are critical and think that they should – that the other side should make concessions, and not them. So that’s why it’s hard and that’s why it has taken so long, but that’s why also we applaud their efforts in getting to this point.

QUESTION: Can I ask you just a small one on the bloggers? You said that she called for a fair and open process. I guess they’re still on trial, but did she not call for their – simply for their release?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’d have to check the exact details, but --

MR. KELLY: I think she said, yeah, fair and transparent proceedings.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. Thank you.

MR. KELLY: Okay. Last question because Phil does have to go.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I appreciate that. Thank you.

QUESTION: Although the U.S. has support for the Turkish-Armenian problem, the conflict in the Balkans – I mean, sorry, in the Caucasus, supporting is not good enough. There’s important stumbling blocks in this normalization process. One is the – on the occupation of occupied territories, Nagorno-Karabakh, and on the other side, so-called Armenian genocide, the – and the Armenians almost all the time put that precondition.

How do you think that this will be compensated with each other and then the U.S. just saying that we support the process? What the U.S. can do? Change the – this sticking of the so-called Armenian genocide? They said no, you have to address it (inaudible). How do you go about it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We do support and we are actively engaged almost on a daily basis, and I think the parties appreciate those efforts. The mediation is done by Switzerland, but of course, the United States is an important player and can influence. But ultimately, and this is the real response to your question, the parties have to want to do it.

That’s why support is the right word. They have to see an interest – and we can underscore this interest and remind them of it – they have to see an interest in overcoming decades of hostility, in overcoming the risk of war, and in enhancing their prosperity by opening their relations. And let me remind you again they initiated this. This is not some U.S. idea that we thought of and we’re trying to get them to buy into. They initiated it. Their leaders saw why it would benefit their two countries, and we’re just trying to help it along.

MR. KELLY: Okay, thanks very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, everyone.

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PRN: 2009/T12-34