The United States deeply regrets the recent convictions of a number of opposition activists who participated in peaceful demonstrations on April 2. These rulings include:
The October 10 verdict of the Nasimi District Court to convict four activists- Ahad Mammadov, Ulvi Guliyev, Elnur Medzhidli, and Rufat Hajibeyli – on charges of actions disturbing public order and/or resisting police;
The October 3 ruling of the Sabail District Court to convict four activists—Arif Hajili, Tural Abbasli, Mahammad Majidli, and Fuad Gahramanli—on charges of conspiracy to violate public order for planning and organizing pro-democracy protests that took place on April 2;
We further regret decisions by the same court on August 25 to convict six other activists on similar charges.
We note that the October 11 spot report from the OSCE Office in Baku, which states that a total of 14 political activists have now been convicted as a result of the April 2 demonstration. We encourage the Office to continue its close monitoring of the court proceedings, including any related appeals.
The United States recalls the Government of Azerbaijan’s obligations under its Constitution and its OSCE commitments to respect the rule of law and the rights of all its citizens to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Accordingly, we call upon Azerbaijan’s judicial authorities to ensure that any appeals of these convictions are reviewed in accordance with Azerbaijan’s constitutional and international commitments, which exist to help all Azerbaijanis advance democratic culture, processes, and institutions in their country.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States joins the EU in expressing its objection to the August 11 demolition of the offices of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) in Baku. Of particular concern, the demolition took place despite a May 24, 2011 injunction by a district administrative court forbidding the expropriation or destruction of the property in question. Moreover, the owner of the building was out of the country. Staff present in the office were denied permission to recover private and professional property and records before the demolition of this property, which also contained the owner’s residence.
We urge the authorities in Azerbaijan to investigate this case thoroughly and to open a dialogue with citizens affected by this and other recent demolitions to ensure that property rights are respected. We underscore that full respect for the rule of law–including due process–is a core OSCE commitment and one of the foundations of a free and prosperous society.
Recalling the statements we made following the peaceful demonstrations of April 2, 2011, in which we expressed concern about continuing restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, we note with concern the August 25 conviction of six activists for their role in the April 2 demonstrations. We join the EU in calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure a fair, transparent, and evidence-based appeal process, and to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression for all its citizens, as enshrined in the Azerbaijani Constitution and in Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments.
The United States will continue to follow developments concerning respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms closely. We reiterate our dedication to assisting Azerbaijan in fulfilling its OSCE commitments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States welcomes the release by the government of Azerbaijan of imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev. We monitored Mr. Fatullayev’s case closely and called for a transparent legal process consistent with Azerbaijani law and international norms. We congratulate Mr. Fatullayev and his family on his release. We remain committed to working with Azerbaijan to advance democratic reforms, including on freedom of expression, and other reforms necessary to secure a prosperous future for its people.
The United States remains concerned about restrictions on the right of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
Today we note with concern the May 18 conviction of youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on charges of draft evasion. The timing of Mr. Hajiyev’s arrest, which immediately followed his online efforts to organize pro-democracy protests in Azerbaijan, raised questions about authorities’ use of the judicial system to punish dissent. The United States supports the strengthening of the rule of law and meaningful democratic reform in Azerbaijan and calls upon authorities to ensure Mr. Hajiyev’s appeals are reviewed in accordance with Azerbaijani law and international commitments, including its OSCE commitments.
The United States has also closely monitored the case of youth activist Jabbar Savalanli, who was convicted on May 4 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on drug possession charges. Mr. Savalanli was detained February 5, shortly after making online comments calling for pro-democracy protests. Procedural irregularities, combined with the timing and circumstances surrounding Mr. Savalanli’s arrest, raise concerns that Mr. Savalanli was targeted on the basis of his political activities.
We urge the Government of Azerbaijan and judicial authorities to resolve Mr. Savalanli’s case in accordance with Azerbaijan’s laws and its international commitments.
Finally, we note the statement by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, who called on Azerbaijani authorities to “prevent violence against the media and to ensure that journalists and social media activists can perform their work in a free and safe environment.” The United States renews its call on the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the right of all its citizens to freedom of expression, and to respect the independence of the judiciary. Both are enshrined under the Azerbaijani Constitution and in Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CROWLEY: Exciting conclusion to the latest entry of the World Cup. Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Secretary Clinton departs tomorrow for an important trip to Central Europe and –
MR. CROWLEY: Huh?
MR. CROWLEY: Thursday. Right? Yes. Let me start again. The Secretary departs on Thursday for an important trip to the – to Central Europe and the Caucasus. And here to go through both the schedule and our stops along the way is Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Phil Gordon. And at the heart of the trip is an important speech the Secretary will give on Saturday at the 10th anniversary of the Community of Democracies, and Assistant Secretary Mike Posner will kind of go through what the heart of her address will be. And they will be here to answer questions afterwards.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, P.J. Good afternoon, everybody. Let me just maybe walk you through the schedule and then I’m sure you’ll have questions. The Secretary will be traveling to Kyiv, Krakow, Baku, Yerevan, and Tbilisi, in that order, from July 1st to 5th. Starting on Thursday, this will be the Secretary’s fourth visit to Ukraine, although the first in her capacity as Secretary of State. She visited in 1995, in 1997 as First Lady, and in 2005 as senator.
Her focus in Ukraine is on the strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine. She’ll be following up on President Obama’s meeting with President Yanukovych at the Nuclear Security Summit, where Ukraine took the historic decision to get rid of all of its highly enriched uranium. That was a very significant step in our efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism worldwide. And that decision is being implemented as we speak, and the Secretary will have a chance to follow up on how that is proceeding.
The Secretary will meet with President Yanukovych and Foreign Minister Hryshchenko and she will also participate in the second meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission, which was created during Vice President Biden’s visit to Kyiv exactly a year ago.
We have a broad relationship with Ukraine and expect that they will discuss economic and energy issues, defense cooperation, the development of democracy, among other topics.
The Secretary will also in Kyiv meet with former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and she will meet with media leaders, civil society groups, and give remarks at a town hall meeting at Kyiv Polytechnic University.
The symbolism of Ukraine’s democratic progress still matters for the region and beyond, and the Secretary will be highlighting our hopes for the protection and advancement of democracy in Ukraine.
In Krakow on the 3rd, the Secretary will participate in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Community of Democracies. Assistant Secretary Posner will be able to talk about that event in more detail. I would just underscore that she and Polish Minister Sikorski are pleased to be marking this anniversary together. It was their predecessors, Secretary Madeleine Albright and Foreign Minister Geremek, who kicked off the Community of Democracies 10 years ago.
Secretary Clinton will also meet bilaterally with Foreign Minister Sikorski. I expect that they will discuss Afghanistan, Iran, European security, economic and energy issues, and our common interest in promoting good governance and human rights, especially in terms of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership.
Also in Poland, the Secretary will visit the Schindler Museum, the factory where during World War II German businessman Oskar Schindler saved hundreds of Jewish workers from the Holocaust.
After Krakow, the Secretary will be visiting three South Caucasus countries, where she will have the opportunity to emphasize the importance of our bilateral relations with Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, and to promote efforts to resolve regional conflicts and strengthen regional peace and stability.
She’ll arrive in Baku on July 4th to meet with President Aliyev and Foreign Minister Mammadyarov. She will also have a chance to talk with young people about media freedom and other political participation issues.
She then proceeds to Yerevan later on July 4th, where she’ll meet with President Sargsian and Foreign Minister Nalbandian. She’ll discuss human rights, democratization, and media freedom with civil society representatives in Yerevan.
On July 5th, the Secretary continues to Tbilisi, where she will meet President Saakashvili, Foreign Minister Vashadze, and members of the political opposition, as well as representatives of civil society and women’s leaders. She will review the progress of the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership as well as the results of the recent municipal elections.
That’s the basics of the schedule. Let me turn it over to Assistant Secretary Posner and then I’ll be happy to come back for any questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m sorry?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Mike.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thanks a lot, Phil. Just a few words about the meeting of the Community of Democracies. As Assistant Secretary Gordon said, this is the 10th anniversary in Krakow. It’s a meeting of approximately 75 governments, representatives of civil society, and really very much in keeping with the President and Secretary Clinton’s commitment to democracy promotion and principled engagement. The Secretary’s speech will focus on human rights and, in particular, on the role of civil society. Very much again in keeping with the recent National Security Strategy which focused on values as one of four principal focal points for this Administration, her speech will explore both the ways in which civil society is key to a broad notion of democracy, but also focus on a range of challenges that human rights and other advocacy groups face around the world in doing their work.
So this will be an opportunity for us both to articulate in a public context but also in a setting where governments committed to democracy and civil society gather to try to strategize and figure out ways to advance promotion of democracy globally. Let me stop there.
QUESTION: Two questions. One, do you believe that the arrest of the ten alleged Russian spies in the United States will harm, impede, disrupt, undermine, in any way effect the U.S.-Russian relationship and the reset?
And then secondly, on the trip, can you address the extent to which you believe the Ukrainian – the new Ukrainian Government is interested in continued and extended cooperation with the United States? Obviously, there’s been a tilt in another direction, and I wonder to what extent you believe they still have significant interest in better bilateral ties.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, Arshad. On the first, when President Obama announced the new approach to Russia 18 months ago, he made clear that we had common interests with Russia that we wanted to pursue in nuclear nonproliferation, Afghanistan, disarmament, economics, and we were determined to pursue those where we had concrete common interests, and we would; and there would be other issues that we disagreed on, but we were not going to forego the opportunity to pursue our common interests because there were things we disagreed on. And I think you should see this spying issue in that context.
We feel we have made significant progress in the 18 months that we have been pursuing this different relationship with Russia. We think we have something to show for it, and that was clear at the meeting of the two presidents last week. And all along, we have made clear that there are still things we disagree on. President Obama never fails to bring those things up when he sees his Russian counterpart. We will continue to do that in the future, but I think you can expect that we will also continue to work diplomatically and successfully with Russia in these areas where we have already demonstrated we both gain from doing so.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to think that they might – although I realize that these are not Russian diplomats who have been declared persona non grata, but have you had any signals or anything to suggest that the Russians may be looking to make reciprocal arrests or take action against alleged U.S. spies in Russia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Nothing I’m aware of. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
QUESTION: Just as a follow-on to that, Phil, can you address whether you’ve had any contact or this Department has had any contact with Russian diplomats here in Washington?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We are in touch with the Russian Government, of course. I mean, both here and in Moscow, we’re talking about the issue.
QUESTION: Have you called in the ambassador? What kind of contacts have – has there been in Washington?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I won’t get into details of precisely who’s talking to whom, but suffice it to say that we’re engaged with the Russian Government on the issue.
QUESTION: Can I –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I have Arshad’s question about Ukraine.
QUESTION: We can get to that later, if you want. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: That was just to sort of give the – go ahead Elise, yeah.
QUESTION: I just want to go to the Russian Foreign Ministry statement that said that – kind of questioning why the Department of Justice made this public and that such incidents, the statement said, have occurred when relations were on the rise. And given that the reset is taking place, the ministry kind of thought that it was inappropriate for you to make such a public showing of this. I mean, do you think that kind of the way that it was done maybe will upset the relations, not necessarily the arrests per se?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, as I say, we have from the start focused on the reason for the reset and the relations and the common interests, and I think we will continue to do so. I think the timing underscores that the Department of Justice is in a different channel and they are moving on the appropriate timetable and we are moving on the diplomatic issues.
QUESTION: But, Phil, is it really a reset if kind of some of the activities that we’ve long criticized Russia for doing, such as spying, are still taking place? I mean, maybe there are some areas where you’re continuing to cooperate, but it seems as if kind of the suspicions that have long been held between the U.S. and Russia still exist.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Look, we would like to get to the point where there is just so much trust and cooperation between the United States and Russia that nobody would think of turning to intelligence means to find out things that they couldn’t find out in other channels. We’re apparently not there yet. I don’t think anyone in this room is shocked to have discovered that. And so yes, we are moving towards a more trusting relationship. We’re beyond the Cold War. I think our relations absolutely demonstrate that. But as I say, I don’t think anyone was hugely shocked to know that some vestiges of old attempts to use intelligence are still there.
I’ll answer Arshad’s Ukraine question and then I wouldn’t be surprised myself if people want to come back to other issues.
You asked about the issue of balance in Ukraine’s foreign policy. We are very clear Ukraine is a sovereign, independent country. When the new president was elected, he made clear that Ukraine didn’t see its future as one choosing between East and West. Indeed, he very symbolically made his first visit to Brussels and he declared that his foreign policy was one of pursuing good relations with Russia – and Ukraine has every right to want to have good relations with Russia – but also pursuing good relationships with Europe and the United States. And that’s what we would like to see happen.
It’s related to the first point about the relationship with Russia. We want to get beyond the notion that European diplomacy and security is a zero-sum game and that countries in Central Europe need to choose whether they’re going to be pro-Russian or pro-American. Indeed, one of the things we’ve said about the relationship with Russia is that when we have a better and the United States has a better relationship with Russia, that is actually a benefit to countries in Central Europe because they don’t feel obliged to choose or orient one way or another. And it certainly applies to Ukraine. So we – the Secretary will have a chance to discuss Ukrainian foreign policy with Ukraine’s leaders, and she’ll make clear what we’ve made clear from the start: that we don’t see these two things as in competition with each other and we hope and expect Ukraine will pursue good relations with Europe and the United States even as it pursues good relations with Russia.
QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, I got a couple of questions on South Caucasus. Let me start with Karabakh, obviously a very big issue during the trip to South Caucasus. I wonder if the joint statement by the presidents of Minsk Group Co-chair countries sort of predetermine Secretary Clinton’s conversation on Karabakh in Baku and Yerevan. Will she be talking along the elements that were outlined in that statement?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, yes. Certainly in the sense – the presidents noted the progress that has been made up till now and the principles that should guide the discussions among the parties. And the United States is firmly committed to those principles and determined to work with the parties to encourage them down the same path. I think the G-8 leaders made the statement, as they had in L’Aquila the previous year, demonstrating their commitment at the highest levels to the Minsk Group process and our desire to see progress on this issue.
It – I think we’ve seen in some of the violence that has appeared in the region lately that we can’t take stability for granted, and Armenia and Azerbaijan would both benefit from moving forward in the Minsk Group process. And the Secretary will have a chance in both countries to underscore what the presidents said in Toronto the other day.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on that. In terms of the violence that you mentioned, there’s been a spike in violence and also you had Azerbaijan add another half a billion to its military budget. There was some of the rhetoric again just a couple of days ago. How concerned are you about those developments, and are you following up with Azerbaijani Government? Is that going to be a subject of conversations in Baku?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, we’re concerned any time violence is – takes place anywhere. And certainly, as I just noted, nobody can take stability for granted when you have an armed standoff and disagreements like we have here, which underscores again why we are so committed to the Minsk Group process and the need for diplomacy. And that is the purpose of the Secretary’s — one of the purposes of the Secretary’s trip to talk to both parties about how to move that process forward.
QUESTION: Sure. But in terms of your analysis, is the situation getting worse than it used to be or is it the same or is there any change to the status quo there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, the situation has been stuck for a lot longer than we would want it to be, and any time there’s an uptick in violence to any degree, it’s something that we’re very concerned about.
QUESTION: There was a proposal of the Armenian President Serzh Sargsian to Azerbaijani side to sign an agreement of not using force. Because we negotiate self-determination and territorial integrity, but still, there is not a point of not using force which co-chairman support, and the Armenian president made an offer. What’s the position of the United States Government regarding this, and is Secretary Clinton supposed to discuss this topic?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think both sides have made clear their commitment to the Helsinki Principles, the first of which is non-use of force or threat of force. We’ll look to them to reiterate their commitment to all of the Helsinki Principles as part of this process.
QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, the statement – the joint statement also calls – actually mentions the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the regions around Nagorno-Karabakh. Is it something – is it the message that Secretary Clinton will take to Yerevan when she talks to President Sargsian?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think all of the principles that the presidents noted in their statement in Toronto – all of them together are very important to us and we would like to see movement on all of them and commitment to all of them.
QUESTION: Hi, Phil. Can you talk a little more broadly about what the Secretary hopes to get out of this trip beyond the forceful statement on democracy and the different bilateral issues? I mean, is it – would it be fair to say that there’s kind of a regional thing here? This is a region maybe that’s felt a little bit neglected or that worries with the reset. I mean, are there sort of broader themes?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I mean, yes. Any trip like this in multiple countries you have multiple goals, and Mike can talk some more about the particular focus on democracy and human rights, but there are some common themes. I mean, first of all, this is a chance to engage bilaterally with some country she hasn’t yet visited as Secretary of State. In Ukraine, you have a new president who she had the chance to meet when he was here for the Nuclear Security Summit, but she’ll be able to go and meet him in his country and spend the full day in Ukraine. She hasn’t as Secretary of State been to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. These are countries with which we have important bilateral relationships. She has engaged and met with the leaders of all of them, but there’s something different about going to the country, hearing from them about their perspectives on this full range of regional and bilateral issues.
I think a common theme that stretches across all of them is this theme of democracy. In that sense, the trip being built around the Community of Democracies is a nice package. I mentioned some of these countries have had recent elections: Georgia just went through municipal elections. We noted that the election in Ukraine, the OSCE and others judged it free and fair. You had a peaceful transition of power. Poland is in many ways a model for a transition from what was in that case a communist governance system to a democracy that over the course of 20 years has developed and stabilized and was able to face after the terrible tragedy in Smolensk, where the lives of so many leaders and elite parliamentarians and officials from that country tragically lost their lives, the institutions of Poland were strong enough, the democracy of Poland was strong enough to withstand that. And so this theme, I think, applies in all of the stops and the United States’ strong and continued support for democratic development.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would just add, at least the portion of the trip in Krakow that’s at the Community of Democracies, as I said before, there’s 75 governments coming from all parts of the world. And I think it’s fair to say this is an initiative 10 years old that we’re trying to reenergize. And part of what we’re doing, part of what I think is interesting about the current phase, is that – there are some working groups that are being set up. For example, on empowerment of women, Melanne Verveer is sharing that for the United States. The Canadians are sharing a working group that’s looking at threats to civil society. So there’s an effort in a very practical way across regions to look at how do democracies reinforce each other and help emerging democracies flourish. Democracy is being challenged in large parts of the world, and this is an effort to kind of rally the forces that are trying to make democracy a reality.
QUESTION: Is it fair or is it – is it fair to regard the trip, at least insofar as Ukraine, Georgia are concerned, as at least partly an effort to reassure people who might feel that their interests may be getting sold short because of the reset? However wrong-headed you may view that perception as being, is that at least part of the broader theme for the trip?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I suspect in both places the Secretary will talk to her counterparts about Russia, but I wouldn’t see it as the purpose of the trip. We don’t think, as I’ve explained here and elsewhere, that anybody should have any concerns about the new and better relationship with Russia. And be it as I said a few minutes ago, we think that some of Russia’s neighbors benefit when the United States and Russia have a more trusting, open relationship and some of them have told us that. But to the extent that anyone has concerns about our Russia policy, we’re happy to discuss them and, again, I’m sure in Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the issue of Russia will come up and it will be a good opportunity for the Secretary to explain how we’re thinking about the reset, how we’re thinking about European security, regional security.
So I wouldn’t see it as a sort of reassurance tour. You can ask them how they see it. But we don’t detect that – a lack of understanding of what we’re trying to do with Russia. Because again, as we’ve made absolutely clear from the start, the better relationship with Russia does not come at the expense of our relationship with sovereign, independent countries that are near Russia. And this is going to be an opportunity for the Secretary to reiterate and demonstrate that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up quick –
QUESTION: I got a question – go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one thing on the Ukraine. In your introductory remarks, you said one of the themes there was the protection and advancement of democracy in Ukraine. Can you tell me where, if at all, you see any backsliding or diminution in political and other rights in Ukraine? For example, have you seen the media behaving, perhaps, in a more intimidated way toward the Yanukovych government? Because you’re focusing a lot of (inaudible) and it makes me wonder, well, what are you seeing there that makes you worry about this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Again, this is a theme that I think we will bring up not just in Ukraine, but we bring it up traditionally in many countries that we go to. Ukraine is a country that has, in the recent past, had contested elections and some questions about the elections. And we think they’re on the right track, but, inevitably, in all of these areas, democratic openness, media freedom, it’s not a perfect situation. And so this will be a chance and that’s why the Secretary, as she always does, will make it a point not just to see the government, but to hear from others in civil society to get a better sense, precisely, Arshad, of the answer to the question that you ask. And to the extent that we can learn more about the concerns of those who think that there are shortcomings in these areas, that will help us identify and focus on them.
QUESTION: If we can get back briefly to the Russian spy case, is there any indication that any of these suspects had contact with State Department officials? And was there any indication of State Department sensitive information having been compromised?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll refer you to the Department of Justice on that one.
QUESTION: Can you discuss the Georgia issue? Just briefly, where do we stand? Are we dissatisfied with Russia’s compliance with the ceasefire, et cetera?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sure. I participated about two weeks ago in the 11th round of the Geneva talks on Georgia, which was a chance for us to speak to the Georgians, Russians, and others about that situation. And we put out a statement after that that sort of sums up our view on the matter. We are dissatisfied with the situation there and we’ve made this clear. The President made it clear to President Medvedev last week and we’ve been consistent in noting that we respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and we call on Russia to abide by its commitments in the August, 2008 ceasefire, which not only called for the nonuse of force and an end to hostilities, but called upon the parties to move their military forces back to where they were before the conflict began. And that hasn’t been done. And we’ve been absolutely clear and consistent from the start that we believe that should happen. There should be more transparency. You have transparency in undisputed Georgia. You have the EU monitoring mission. And I think that provides the world a window into what’s going on there.
In South Ossetia and Abkhazia, you don’t have an international presence. You previously had the OSCE present in South Ossetia. You had the UN in Abkhazia and we don’t anymore. So we have raised this consistently with the Russians. We have a different view on it. But again, it fits into what I began with, that we’re pursuing a better relationship with Russia. In many areas, we’re advancing our cooperation. We have a significant disagreement on this issue. And we’ve made that clear to the Russians. And there will be a chance in Tbilisi to engage with the Georgians on the subject.
QUESTION: On Russia, a follow-up – every now and again, Georgian officials complain that they are unable to use M-4 rifles and get resupplied for their contingent in Afghanistan. Will the issue of the arms embargo come up in the talks with the Secretary and specifically if they can get access to these Humvees and M-4s that they complain about every now and again to reporters like myself?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me first clarify that we don’t have an arms embargo on Georgia. We are pursuing security cooperation with Georgia. Georgia is making a very significant contribution in Afghanistan, which we value. The Georgians, in Afghanistan, have performed admirably. And we very much appreciate their support. And we are helping them with training for that mission. So we have security cooperation with Georgia. And as I’ve noted, Georgia’s a sovereign, independent country. We don’t have an embargo on Georgia. We’ve said that all sovereign, independent countries in Europe and elsewhere have the right to self-defense and to seek the alliances of their choosing without a third party having a veto over it.
QUESTION: What about the M-4s?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have an answer for you on the specific – you can check with the –
QUESTION: I mean, does – can the U.S. sell them the M-4s?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have an answer on M-4s. You can talk – I’m sure I can get you one or you can check with the Pentagon. But as I said, there’s no arms embargo on Georgia.
QUESTION: But it is the case that the United States has not fulfilled any of Georgia’s requests for arms over the last couple of years.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Over the last couple of years, what we’ve been focused – there was a war in Georgia in the summer of 2008. And we have been focused, in the last couple of years, in reducing tensions, trying to get more transparency, trying to get the Russians to, in the first place, withdraw their forces to where they were before the conflict; in the second place, to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and not have any troops in Georgia at all.
That’s what this Geneva process is about: to minimize tension, set up mechanisms, to avoid the types of issues that can spill over into conflict. We have engaged very closely with our friends in Georgia to develop their democracy and prosperity because we believe that the real long-term situation – solution in Georgia is not going to be a military one based on the sale of this or that military equipment. There’s not a military fix to this problem. It is, through Georgia, becoming a stronger democracy, a more prosperous country, so that the residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia agree that they should be part of that unified Georgia. That is what our focus has been on. That’s what this trip will focus on, and we don’t think that arms sales and military equipment is the path to the situation in Georgia that we’re trying to get to.
QUESTION: Would the Armenia-Turkish relations be on their agenda of upcoming trip to Yerevan? And also, Azerbaijan has some reservations regarding the reopening of the border gates. I wonder if the American side works with the Azerbaijani counterparts with this topic. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m sure the Armenia-Turkish relationship will be discussed. As you know, we have been supporters of the protocols that the Secretary Clinton participated in the finding of in last October in Zurich because we think that normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey would be good for Turkey and good for Armenia and good for the regional situation. Those protocols haven’t been ratified. As you know, President Sargsian announced this past spring that he was suspending his pursuit of ratification. But that when Turkish partner was ready to move forward on ratification, Armenia would be as well. So this will be a chance for the Secretary to speak to President Sargsian and the Armenians about how they see that situation. We continue to believe it would be a good thing for the protocols to ratified and implemented and have an open border with Turkey that would benefit both Armenia and Turkey.
MR. CROWLEY: This is the last question or two and –
QUESTION: Well, there are those conversations about opening the Armenia-Turkey border since Turkey – since they’re so close, it restricts its relations with Israel closing air space according to recent reports. Any reaction to this closure of air space to civilian Israeli aircraft going over Turkey?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, I mean, it’s a setback, of course. We have said one of the more positive things in the broader Middle East in recent years or decades has been the Turkey-Israel relationship with such close cooperation between them. And since the flotilla incident, we’ve seen tensions in that relationship and talk of specific steps. And any steps away from what had been a really flourishing security, diplomatic, tourism, and economic relationship is a setback and is unfortunate.
MR. CROWLEY: Last one.
QUESTION: Let me just ask quickly too, how much energy is going to be part of this trip? And President Obama, at his latest letter to President Aliyev mentioned that he’s aware of some serious issues in U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. How does State Department define those issues and which ones you’re trying to address during this trip?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sure, I think, without fail, energy is a high priority issue for all of – in one way or another, for all of the countries the Secretary will be visiting. Our Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy issues Ambassador Dick Morningstar will be on the trip in Ukraine and Poland. In the Caucasus, energy is a critical issue and it absolutely will be a key part of the discussions. I think serious issues with Azerbaijan are clear. These are all serious issues. Energy is a key issue with Azerbaijan, the relationship with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh is a serious issue, regional security. So, yes, the agenda will be full of serious issues to discuss and that’s why the Secretary’s going is because there’s lots to talk about.
QUESTION: Sir, by serious issues, does the President mean serious disagreements? It sounded as if there were disagreements in between U.S. and Azerbaijan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I would define them as serious issues. These are all high stakes. They’re very important to Azerbaijan and they’re important to us. They are serious matters and I didn’t say serious disagreements, just serious issues for us to discuss.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much.