- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

Americans may not be too familiar with far-away countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan, but in this post-September 11 world, these neighboring former Soviet republics will be increasingly important to U.S. counterterrorist initiatives.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have allowed U.S. warplanes to fly over their territory during the fighting in Afghanistan, and U.S. planes gassed up in Armenia on their way to the war front. Given their proximity to Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East, these two countries are strategically situated.
The only problem is, Armenia and Azerbaijan don't get along terribly well, due in part to a conflict that erupted in 1988 over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. In fact, Azerbaijan and Turkey have a blockade against Armenia, which has caused the land-locked country terrible economic hardship. The United States instituted sanctions on Azerbaijan in 1992, due to human rights abuses against Armenians and the blockade.
Now, the administration would like to make some overture to both Armenia and Azerbaijan in deference to their help with the campaign in Afghanistan. However, given the mutual enmity, not offending either country is tricky. But the Bush administration and Congress appeared to have solved the quandry, by offering something to each country.
The White House recently asked Congress to institute an annual waiver of the U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan, and Congress has appropriated $4.3 million in military training and assistance to Armenia. Though neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey has relaxed the embargo on Armenia, the government there has demonstrated admirable restraint in response to the administration's request for a waiver on U.S. sanction on Azerbaijan and has expressed understanding of the administration's need to enlist allies in this ongoing struggle.
"It's hard to argue that you're not going to give the president some flexibility to counter terrorists," said Bryan Ardouny, director of government relations for the Armenian Assembly, adding that Armenia was pleased to see the waiver on the sanctions would be renewable, rather than permanent.
Armenia's gracious response to the relaxation of U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan may also be due to the White House's efforts to address that country's plight, even though this hasn't been considered a foreign policy priority by past administrations. On April 24, in commemoration of the 86th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman empire, which began in 1915, President Bush said, "Today marks the commemoration of one of the great tragedies of history: the forced exile and annihilation of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the closing years of the Ottoman Empire. These infamous killings darkened the 20th century and continue to haunt us to this day." And in April, Mr. Bush hosted in Key West peace talks between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Although Mr. Bush has long been accused of being an isolationist, his mediation on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, when it didn't appear to be a pressing U.S. concern, proves otherwise.

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