By Rashid Shirinov
Azerbaijan plays an important role in boosting regional and global energy security, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta said at a business dinner on March 28, organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham) and dedicated to the completion of his diplomatic mission in the country.
“The geographical position of Azerbaijan and its energy resources play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of not only the region but also the world. This as well as other factors are raising Azerbaijan’s international profile,” he said.
Another factor ensuring Azerbaijan's important role in the region is the country's transit potential, the ambassador noted.
“The opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and the development of the new port at Alat south of Baku, for example, are both key components of the New Silk Road and factors that have the potential to improve and expand trade between the western and the eastern and southern portions of Eurasia,” Cekuta said.
He added that these new transport facilities will drop shipping time between China and Western Europe from 35 to 10-15 days. The new facilities also offer improved access between India and other south Asian markets and Western Europe.
“Certainly Azerbaijan needs to continue an aggressive effort to diversify its economy,” the ambassador continued. “Look at Baku’s sister city Houston, which diversified its economy after oil prices crashed in the 1980s and which, as a result, weathered the drop in oil prices that began in June, 2014.”
Cekuta also expressed his conviction that there is still further potential for Azerbaijan as an oil and gas producer. “Moreover, I continue to see this area as one with significant potential for U.S. firms in Azerbaijan,” he said.
The U.S. and Azerbaijan established diplomatic relations in 1992, following the latter's independence from the Soviet Union. Last year, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $781.78 million, according to the Azerbaijani State Customs Committee.
Presently, the countries work together to promote European energy security, expand trade and investment, and combat terrorism and transnational threats. The U.S. is committed to strengthening democracy and promoting economic diversification in Azerbaijan. The U.S. companies are actively involved in the development of Caspian hydrocarbons in offshore Azerbaijani oilfields, and the U.S. government actively supported the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline as the primary route of transportation for Caspian oil.
In his speech, Cekuta noted that Azerbaijan’s geographic reality with all of its challenges is something that gives the country opportunities, as well as international importance.
“Because of its geography, Azerbaijan is a critical component of the Northern Distribution Network, a vital transport channel providing access to and out of Afghanistan,” he added.
He also said that Azerbaijan has an important role to play showing the world an example of a secular Muslim state, as well as of interethnic and interreligious tolerance.
Noting that this year the country will mark the centennial of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Cekuta pointed out that it was the first Muslim country to recognize women’s right to vote and to participate in the legislature and government.
The ambassador also touched upon the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, noting that there is a need to help realize its peaceful settlement based upon internationally agreed principles.
Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a lengthy war that ended with signing of a fragile ceasefire in 1994. Since the war, Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions. More than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and over 1 million were displaced as a result of the large-scale hostilities.
While the OSCE Minsk Group acted as the only mediator in resolution of the conflict, the occupation of the territory of the sovereign state with its internationally recognized boundaries has been left out of due attention of the international community for years.
Until now, Armenia ignores four UN Security Council resolutions on immediate withdrawal from the occupied territory of Azerbaijan, thus keeping tension high in the region.
Rashid Shirinov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @RashidShirinov
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