President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan arrives in Lisbon for the NATO summit; his Armenian counterpart stayed home
While most of the headlines from the just-concluded NATO summit in Lisbon have focused on the news that the alliance would remain in Afghanistan through 2014, and probably longer, behind the scenes there was plenty of action on the Eurasia front, as well.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili went to the summit, and got a much-coveted meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, and afterwards he took great pains to emphasize how special and unique the meeting was (via Civil.ge):
“I am very satisfied with this meeting,” Saakashvili told a group of Georgian journalists in Lisbon after meeting with President Obama late on November 19 evening. “As you know this was President Obama’s only meeting here at NATO summit, apart his meetings with [Afghan] President Karzai and with the hosts [referring to Portuguese leaders] – and you know that Afghanistan tops the agenda of this summit; actually he had no other meetings here except of these ones. Of course this is already in itself an important message.”
The White House also notes that Obama met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. And the Kazakhstan state news agency Kazinform says that its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, also met with Obama, but no one else, including the White House, seems to be reporting that.
The Georgian government also announced it was adding a bit to its contingent of troops in Afghanistan, by sending 20 trainers for the Afghan National Army. And it praised the joint communique issued by the summit participants for reiterating its support for Georgian membership in NATO. (The title of the email I got was "Georgia 'Will Become a Member of NATO,' Declares NATO As Lisbon Summit Concludes.")
That communique, however, caused some consternation in Yerevan, for declaring its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan (among other states) and not mentioning self-determination:
We remain committed in our support of the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, and will also continue to support efforts towards a peaceful settlement of these regional conflicts, taking into account these principles.
Translated into the context of Nagorno Karabakh, of course, this would mean that it should belong to Azerbaijan, not the Armenians who exercise de facto control there. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, aware that NATO was going to make that statement, stayed away from the summit in protest. It seems that the statement was not particularly directed at Armenia: One member of the presidential party says it seems to have been put there by Georgia, and Sargsyan's office's statement just warned that "generalized formulations" of the various Caucasus conflicts were "unacceptable."
But the joint communique from the 2008 summit used exactly the same language with respect to Armenia, so one has to wonder what has changed in Yerevan that they decided they needed to make this move.
The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, did go to Lisbon, but aside from Nazarbayev, no other Central Asian leaders appear to have.
The most talked-about Eurasia-related issues leading up to the summit -- Turkey's participation in the NATO missile defense system, and NATO's own "reset" with Russia, unfolded without drama.
NATO and Russia announced a new "strategic partnership," and Turkey got its way in regard to the proposed NATO missile defense system, and Iran was not mentioned as the target of the system, thus not forcing Ankara to choose between its NATO ties and its improving relations with Tehran. But that does not end the discussion on Turkey's participation in the shield, and Ankara is making some demands on control of the system. Reports Hurriyet:
“Turkey was asking to be part of the command system especially on matters directly concerning Turkey,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
Ankara seeks to have NATO’s İzmir headquarters designated as the missile-defense command center instead of Germany’s Ramstein base, as the United States has insisted. Turkey’s good relations with countries such as Iran and Syria – both believed to be developing nuclear weapons – will help reduce the tension between the alliance and these countries, Ankara has argued.
NATO had planned to close the İzmir base as part of a restructuring program of its operational headquarters and command centers, but Turkish officials want it to remain open in order to retain Ankara’s influence within the alliance.
To me, the most intriguing bit of news from a not-very-newsworthy summit is Armenia's move. Armenia's relations with NATO countries have never been especially tight, and it certainly seems possible to read too much into Sargsyan's boycott, but they seemed to be intent on making a statement by it. Are they just trying to call attention to the issue, or was it a rebuke directly aimed at NATO? Any ideas?