By Vafa İsmayilova
The resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan seems to form a new active format of cooperation between Baku and Washington. Azerbaijan’s desire to get military equipment from the U.S. and to see the latter’s close involvement in the post-war regional developments shows that Baku is interested in expanding the scope of its cooperation with Washington.
The latest contacts between the U.S. and Azerbaijani officials also offer signs of rapprochement between Baku and Washington.
On May 24, in his congratulatory message to Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on the occasion of May 28 - Republic Day, President Joe Biden said that as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the USA “remained committed to helping the sides negotiate a long-term political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict".
He stressed that during the 30 years since the restoration of Azerbaijan's independence in 1991, the U.S. and Azerbaijan have worked together on security, energy, and democratic governance issues while strengthening ties between the American and Azerbaijani peoples.
"The United States strongly supports Azerbaijan's important contributions to European energy diversification with last year's launch of the Southern Gas Corridor and this year's memorandum of understanding on joint exploration of the Caspian with Turkmenistan. We are grateful for Azerbaijan's 20 years of support for NATO's mission in Afghanistan and efforts to combat terrorism,” he said.
A few days before Biden made the aforesaid statement, President Ilham Aliyev declared at a conference on prospects for the South Caucasus regional development and cooperation that Azerbaijan wants to get access to US military equipment. He said that until today Azerbaijan did not have such an opportunity, apparently because of the conflict with Armenia.
“But today the conflict has been resolved and I see no reason not to cooperate with the United States in the defence industry sphere,” he said.
The president noted that Azerbaijan, as a strategic partner, is ready for an active work and the expansion of cooperation. Focusing on his new expectations from the new U.S. administration, Aliyev said that this will depend on the new administration’s South Caucasus agenda.
“Our initial contacts are very positive. This allows us to make some analysis of the results... Everything will depend on where the South Caucasus is on the list of priorities. This will be the driving force of our relations," he said.
Aliyev stressed that the leading role in Azerbaijani-U.S. relations belongs to the latter.
"But we are ready to work closely as a strategic partner and expand our cooperation,” Aliyev said.
U.S. role in post-war regional development
He stressed that Washington can play an important role in post-war regional development.
“The post-conflict development is important. At the same time, I think that the testing of contacts in the South Caucasus as a whole can be an important sphere. So far, Azerbaijan has maintained relations with Georgia, and Armenia has maintained relations with Georgia, but there was no contact or cooperation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Perhaps it is time to consider whether trilateral cooperation is possible. We are ready for that. As I mentioned earlier, we are ready to work on a peace agreement with Armenia. The United States can use its potential to convince Armenia that this is the only way forward and that even bringing the issue of revenge to mind will be very dangerous for them," Aliyev said.
The president said that there are many opportunities and expectations, but Azerbaijan is waiting for the U.S. administration to be fully operational, and Baku wants to get a message about how Washington wants to build a relationship with Azerbaijan.
He touched on the Armenian diaspora’s destructive role, which is still making efforts to present Azerbaijan to the American society as an aggressor.
“We know that there is a very active Armenian diaspora in the United States, and, unfortunately, they have played a destructive role against the Armenian state. The length of the occupation was due to their radical position. They thought it would last forever, but they were wrong. At present, they are trying to mobilize all their efforts to portray Azerbaijan as an aggressor. However, we have only liberated our territories. That was our right, and we had to wait about 30 years to do it,” Aliyev said.
The head of state also expressed confidence that in the course of contacts with the US administration, Azerbaijan will witness further progress.
New atmosphere for co-op with U.S.
Aliyev believes that after the Karabakh conflict’s resolution, it will be easier to make plans for the future as the conflict to a certain degree blocked some areas of cooperation. In his opinion, the resolution creates absolutely new atmosphere for cooperation with the U.S.
Azerbaijan, which is closely cooperating with the U.S. in spheres of counter-terrorism, peace-keeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and energy security, aims to diversify ties in modern technologies and trade.
“Another important area of our cooperation is energy security. The United States has always assisted in the implementation of major energy projects and has always supported Azerbaijan in investing in oil and gas pipelines or American companies. We have multifaceted relations in the areas I have mentioned, but we want to diversify these relations even more. In particular, this includes modern technologies and trade, as the level of trade turnover is very low,” Aliyev said.
The president's remarks about the agenda of his recent phone conversation with U.S. President's National Security Adviser Sullivan also point to progress in Azerbaijani-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation.
“We discussed the post-conflict situation in the region and bilateral relations. We are cooperating in the fight against terrorism and peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. We have been involved in operations in Afghanistan since the early days and continue to be there. Our military is there, and recently we have even increased their number,” he said.
Some experts believe that it is now possible to say that a pause in Azerbaijani-American relations ended.
“A few days ago, the delegation of the [US-based independent research think tank] Caspian Policy Centre visited [liberated] Aghdam. I think this is not the last one,” the head of the department at the Public Administration Academy under the Azerbaijani president, Professor Namig Aliyev, said in an interview with the local media.
In late April, in a telephone conversation between Aliyev and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the latter said that this year too the waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act was extended. The two men also stressed the importance of further strengthening ties.
Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act bans any kind of direct U.S. aid to the Azerbaijani government. This ban made Azerbaijan the only post-Soviet state not to receive direct aid from the U.S. government to facilitate economic and political stability. The Act was strongly lobbied for by the Armenian-American community in the U.S. and was passed in response to Azerbaijan's alleged blockade of Armenia during the first Karabakh war in the early 1990s.
On October 24, 2001, the Senate adopted an amendment to the Act that would provide the President with the ability to waiver Section 907.
Well-known expert Svante Cornell described the term “blockade” as unjustified since it ignored the fact that Armenia itself had imposed an embargo on Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave, and the closure of the border with Armenia took place due to the occupation of the Azerbaijani lands. Moreover, the use of the term "blockade" in itself is misleading, as Armenia has close economic ties with Georgia and Iran.
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