Clinton dives into Caucasus politics with four-nation tour

Clinton dives into Caucasus politics with four-nation tour

Clinton dives into Caucasus politics with four-nation tour

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian (R) greets US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after her arrival at Yerevan International Airport in Yerevan. REUTERS photo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off a tour of the South Caucasus yesterday, including stops in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, arriving first in Yerevan for talks with Armenian leaders.

Clinton was scheduled to meet with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, with the aim of strengthening relations with the country. The top issue expected to be discussed is the unresolved conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite years of internationally-mediated talks since the 1994 cease-fire, Armenia and Azerbaijan have not signed a final peace deal, and soldiers are frequently killed in border skirmishes.

The latest shooting erupted yesterday, just as Clinton landed in the capital. Azerbaijani troops killed three Armenian soldiers during an alleged attempted incursion on the border, the Defense Ministry in Yerevan said. Azerbaijani media reported that the three deaths were caused by an Armenian army “provocation” that was repelled.

Syria agenda
According to U.S. officials, Clinton is also using her visit to stress the importance of the rule of law, transparency and fair elections, Agence France-Presse reported. Washington also wants to encourage Armenia and Turkey to resolve their historical differences and to open trade and communication lines. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the biggest and most influential U.S. Armenian group, has suggested 10 steps that Clinton should undertake during her visit, including an official visit to the “Armenian Genocide” memorial.

With Syria in mind, Clinton spoke by telephone earlier with U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who agreed to travel to Washington on June 8 “to discuss the next steps in his six-point plan, and in particular the political transition” in Syria, a senior State Department spokeswoman said.

Trilateral summit on June 8
Clinton also gave Annan a preview of talks she plans to hold on June 7 in Istanbul with a group of countries with a direct interest in the unfolding drama in Syria, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. These were expected to include France, Britain, Germany, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. One day after, foreign ministers of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan are set to meet for a trilateral meeting June 8 in Trabzon, a Black Eastern coastal town.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will host Georgian and Azeri colleagues, Grigol Vashadze and Elmar Mammadyarov, for the one-day meeting in which regional issues will be discussed in-depth. A day after the political talks, economic and development ministers as well as businessmen from three countries will meet in Kars on the Georgian border for the business forum. Delegations will seek to cooperate in the fields of agriculture, construction, industry, tourism, real estate and health.

Today Clinton is scheduled to take part in a plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission in Georgia. Tomorrow she is expected to travel to Azerbaijan to meet with President Ilham Aliyev.