Biden’s team’s approach to Azerbaijan will be determined from a regional perspective

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https://www.turan.az-The presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, won the November 3 presidential election in the United States. Biden defeated his opponent and current President Donald Trump in the election. Apparently, the United States trusted Trump for only 4 years. Or it can be said that they “endured”. According to experts, the tasks of Biden, who came to power after Trump, are extremely difficult. He must first fill in the gaps left by his predecessor in foreign and domestic policy over the past four years and reconsider US policy.What will change in Biden’s policy? What changes can there be in the new president’s policy towards Azerbaijan? Alex (Alakbar) Raufoglu, an Azerbaijani journalist living in the United States, answered ASTNA’s questions.

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– As a result of the last presidential election in the United States, Joe Biden was elected president. Are there any changes expected in US domestic and foreign policy after that?

– Changes are inevitable. Even so much as the current debates in Washington are focused on the question of “when” rather than “what” changes. The point is that this year’s elections have gone down in history as unconventional and have taken place against the backdrop of growing domestic and international problems in the United States. It is no coincidence that more than two weeks after the election, the current president has not yet acknowledged the victory of his opponent. At the same time, leaders both at home and in the world have had mixed reactions to Biden’s victory: some are congratulating him, while others are still waiting.

This means that Joe Biden, who has not yet set foot in the White House as the 46th president, is already facing divisiveness in American history that no president has faced since Franklin Roosevelt, so he will have to spend his time and energy primarily on reconciliation, both at home and abroad. Of course, this does not mean that the United States will not have an active foreign policy during this time period. But the scale of Biden’s success in his first 100 days will be measured by, as they say, how he puts ointment on wounds… So, yes, there will be these enormous domestic distractions such as COVID, economy, and other thinks.

Overall, for the next four years, I think Joe Biden could very well prove to be the most influential foreign policy minded president that the U.S. has had since George H. W. Bush. One reason for this is his past and personal experience. In Washington, it’s rare to find a president who is as interested in foreign policy as he is, who has spent years around it, really liked it. Barack Obama and George W. Bush for all of their policy interests didn’t actually have foreign policy at the top of their agenda, they had a common vision. Biden will be very different from his predecessors in a good way. In any case, we are talking about a statesman who has devoted almost his entire career – both as vice president and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, as well as in other previous positions – to foreign policy.

But, of course, the world is not the same as it was four years ago, or the year is not the same years when Biden served as vice president in the White House. COVID’s mark on international relations is measured by some on the same level as the aftermath of World War II. Most diplomats and politicians in Washington are now talking more about competition, the economy, health, national sovereignty, borders, and security than cooperation. Of course, this is a completely different political climate.

But despite all this, some in the Biden camp believe that the new president will roll up his sleeves and actively pursue foreign policy immediately after the first 100 days of his presidency, despite all the challenges. The only concern I’ve heard in the corridors on this, is the age of the new president such that if Biden, who just celebrated his 78th birthday on November 20, is in poor health for some reason, all eyes will be on his vice, Kamala Harris, who has little knowledge in foreign policy. Therefore, now, in Washington, almost all experts are focused on the new president’s foreign policy team. Although the name of the future secretary of state is yet to be known, it can be said that among the president’s foreign policy advisers, people who deeply understand this work have already been gathered.

The new team has already pledged a number of important changes in foreign policy – especially to put an end to a number of negative contradictions “left by Trump”. First of all, the US approach to issues such as relations with Russia, Egypt, the Gulf states, the war in Yemen, the whimsies of Saudi Arabia will change radically. Speaking of the latter, there has been a lots of debates on the Capitol Hill to push a tougher approach particularly after the murder of journalist Khashoggi. This is a huge debate and I think Biden might go with some of those proposals. In short, greater attention to democracy, human rights, media freedom will be in front of the agenda which will influence the relationship with a number of countries where the U.S. has a stake.

It is also expected that, unlike his predecessors, Biden will devote more time and attention to the European Union on the international stage and this is likely to be a far more NATO centric administration. This, in turn, will have an impact on US relations with our region, such as with Turkey. You know, sometimes there are issues, especially in the security realm – they can not be resolved within the framework of bilateral relations, so the allies turn to the Northern Alliance and put in more heavily into a NATO frame which might make things easier…

– By the way, Russia did not want Joe Biden to be elected. Could we witness another secret and open struggle between the two hegemons?

– In the short term, no doubt it’s gonna be more nerve wracking for everyone, but in the mid- and long term, I think both parties could find the balance. I have been in regular contact with experts on Russia in Washington, and my personal observation is that even those who sympathize with the Kremlin have had to make some adjustments in their tone towards Biden in recent days. Some even openly say that “perhaps the Biden administration could work better for us because it would be more predictable.”

Of course, there were some kind of similarities between Trump and Putin, although it’s hard to say what exactly it was. For example, it was not fully clear whether they liked each other or not. But both leaders preferred individuals and leadership in foreign policy over institutions. Biden rejects this concept, relying more on the institutionalized policy. Therefore, most experts in Washington envision two possible scenarios for US relations with Russia, China, and other rivals in the coming period: Harsh and relatively less harsh.

The first scenario is that Biden wins the presidency, while Republicans retain control in the Senate (as you know, the final word on control over Senate will be known in January). Thus, it is difficult for Biden to reach a common ground with his rivals in domestic politics and to achieve special successes, and this is happening at the time when expectations from Biden Administration are high and the country is facing several existential challenges at home. Therefore, the president will have to focus on foreign policy and try to get, as they say, “success stories”. And in this case, Biden will use particularly harsh rhetoric against countries such as Russia and China, even if episodic in the Senate, this will create the impression of a certain unity such that lawmakers representing both parties will support such rhetoric by a large majority.

The second scenario is less popular but is conveyed differently depending on who controls the Senate. For example, if Biden has to work with the Democrat-controlled Senate (as I said, control over Senate will be determined in January), he may decide to use that resource primarily for the sake of radical changes in the domestic political arena (such as making as many political appointments as possible, etc.), and thus there will simply be no time left in the legislature on issues such as Putin and China, and the administration will instead rely on relatively weak resources at its disposal. Alternatively, the new president could avoid a Republican-controlled Senate and address foreign policy issues outside the corridors of Congress. If that happens, that mean, he will tolerate many things that Russia and China do and might pick most symbolic sanctions versus more severe ones.

In any case, one thing is certain: Biden is expected to pursue a very tough policy against Russia. The new president’s team unequivocally believes that Russia is a threat not only to US national security but also to its European allies. And let’s not forget that during his vice presidency, Biden personally supported pro-Western leaders struggling against Russia in Ukraine. This means that the new president will continue to work closely with US allies in Europe in defense of Moscow’s aggressive behavior.

– Can there be any changes in the US policy towards Azerbaijan and the region?

– Of course, we are talking primarily about the regional approach – Azerbaijan alone will not have a special place in Biden’s foreign policy. It is true that Biden has made some statements on Azerbaijan over the past few weeks – especially against the backdrop of the Karabakh war – to please the Armenian community in the United States, but will all this be translated into President Biden’s foreign policy concept? Hardly…

The same approach can be applied to the new president’s relations with Turkey. Although the Democrat president’s entourage – especially his allies in Congress – are testing Washington’s strategic alliance with Ankara, there are issues that can be addressed outside the strategic alliance.

For example, as I said earlier, Biden aims to reverse Trump’s policies on issues such as Egypt, the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. And these changes, strange as they may be, may bring Erdoğan and Washington closer. Biden also intends to take a tougher approach in the fight against ISIS. And Turkey is one of the most important actors here. Also, a return to the nuclear deal with Iran, a change in the way the United States negotiates with the Muslim world, and the strengthening of NATO – all of these will increase Turkey’s role.

– Biden is described as more pro-Armenian. Do you think he will have any effect on Armenians or Armenia? Or can he demand sanctions against any country in conflict with the Armenians?

– Theoretically, it is possible that sanctions will be raised from time to time at the level of pro-Armenian Congress members, and even through a House Committee vote. Unlike the legislative branch, Administrations view sanctions not as a means of punishment but only as a way to change behavior in specific cases. Will this happen during Biden’s presidency? Only time will tell.

Specifically, if we talk about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the Biden camp is represented not only by people who know the region well, but also by intelligent people who have worked directly on the conflict in time. In their conversations with us personally, they talk more about the need to maintain the neutrality of the United States as a mediator than about arming themselves with Armenian rhetoric against Baku.

Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, there has always been a camp within any Administration that does not want to lose specific countries, such as Azerbaijan. It is true that the president may or may not listen to those groups; however, the main thing is that such camps exist, and the most reliable way to get their voice heard is to protect the international reputation of Azerbaijan, which depends only on Baku itself.

– When it comes to US relations with Azerbaijan, they say that energy, security, and democracy and human rights are priorities. Do you think there can be a shift in these priorities? Or can any serious change in the US attitude towards Azerbaijan and punishment be expected due to democracy and human rights?

– Human rights and democracy will certainly be a priority for the Biden Administration such that we will hear more louder statements coming directly from top. But in all cases, let’s not forget that any administration comes to the White House to solve problems, not to deepen them. And in this case, it is important not to repeat the mistakes made during the previous administrations. That is, although a change in methods is inevitable, the ultimate goal is to solve the problem.

In the next round of US-Azerbaijani relations, the Azerbaijani side will be the first to through the ball. Therefore, the main task for officials in Baku is to avoid wrongdoing, especially during thisn period. Overcoming obstacles and disagreements is now more important than ever. But at the end of the you’ve got to fix the basic problems such as human rights, a list of other things. The government should start with addressing the main problems in the field of human rights to put an end to the issue of political prisoners.

What is Azerbaijan’s interest in fixing this? The main interest of any country in the international arena is to gain reassurance in an extremely dangerous set of neighborhoods. Who can give this guarantee to Baku? You’re going to rely simply on Russia to do that over the longer term? Of course not! Russia is, in fact, the essence of the problem. Unless you feel safe and stable among neighbors such as Iran, Russia, and Armenia, you need friends in the West and a strong guarantor like the United States.

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