In the US-Azerbaijani relations “the ball is in Baku’s court”

24 the recent event on “South Caucasus: Prospects for Regional Development and Cooperation” held by Nizami Ganjavi International Center on May 20 in video format, President Ilham Aliyev spoke about the prospects for cooperation with the United States, the European Union, and Armenia and delivered a number of messages. He said the United States has always supported Azerbaijan’s energy and other projects.“However, we would like these relations to be further diversified. We would like to cooperate more closely in the field of trade. We can also cooperate in the defense industry.”The President noted that Azerbaijan is working closely with the new White House administration. He also said that the United States can contribute to the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.“During my meeting with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, I said I expected new proposals from them. Therefore, I think that this organization is currently looking for new proposals. New proposals can be put forward for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for the people of both countries to live together.”Washington-based Azerbaijani-origin journalist Alex Raufoglu answered ASTNA’s questions on the subject.


– President Ilham Aliyev delivered a number of messages to the EU during the discussions on “South Caucasus: Regional Development and Prospects for Cooperation” held by the Nizami Ganjavi International Center in a video format on May 20. What do you think was in these messages? And which of these messages did the United States expect? In general, what were the important messages of the President about the United States?

– The question of “what wasn’t in there” was much more noticeable than what actually was conveyed in the infamous May 20 speech of President Aliyev, especially when it comes to his messages towards the United States. First of all, the President’s statements were lacking in specificity and consistency…

Just a month and a half ago, Mr. Aliyev, by referring to phone calls from Washington to Yerevan, accused the United States of ” disturbing the balance” in the region. During this period, certain contacts have already taken place between Washington and Baku – the President spoke about them with pleasure. However, when laying out the scope of cooperation, Mr. Aliyev mentioned only peacekeeping operations and energy, and included the remaining – in fact, no less important topics – in the category of abstract “some other areas”.

Albeit the US presence in the areas of which Aliyev named openly, has significantly weakened in recent years, and in some cases, it even requires looking backwards. The new administration in Washington however prefers a forward-looking course in its approach to Azerbaijan…

– Throughout the President’s speech, the desire for the United States to act as a mediator in cooperation with the United States, as well as with Armenia was repeatedly mentioned. Armenia was condemned for its position on Azerbaijanphobia. It was stressed that Azerbaijan is willing to cooperate. What do you think is the purpose of these messages at a time when the world’s attention is focused on the processes taking place on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border?

– The international format regulating the US mediation in the Karabakh conflict is well-known, it is the OSCE Minsk Group. The Azerbaijani side has repeatedly stated that it does not expect anything from this body. At the same time, Baku’s activities in the OSCE over the past year alone, according to Western diplomats, have been aimed at disruption – such as violating the veto in elections to the organization’s leadership, and more recently preventing consensus on the Chair’s Unified Budget within the organization. In other words, Azerbaijani diplomacy has thus limited the ability of the United States to mediate in the conflict and instead turned its attention to the regional alternative 3+3 format with the participation of Russia, which is refused by the West…

President Aliyev’s messages of cooperation to Washington on Karabakh are certainly noteworthy; however, first of all, it should be noted that the ball is now in the territory of Azerbaijan, and when you look at Baku’s behavior, there is a clear discrepancy between action and word here. As the famous American saying goes, the Azerbaijani leadership should walk the walk, rather than talk the talk…

First and foremost, officials in Baku must respond concretely to the U.S. State Department’s calls on the parties to return to high-level talks unconditionally under the auspices of the Minsk Group co-chairs over the past two months – and for the last time, just this week. In any case, such an answer is not known to the public.

Second, both Azerbaijan and Armenia need to recondier Russia’s co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group, after greenlighting its military involvement in the conflict, as it violates an earlier agreement on the mandate and role of the mediating countries. In addition, the presence of Russian troops in the region, as well as recent tensions on the border, have hampered the participation of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office in the process, and this problem must be resolved.

In its turn, Washington should raise its representation in the OSCE Minsk Group to a level higher than that of a Department of State’s career diplomat – at least to the level of Ambassador. The new situation in the Karabakh conflict has necessitated a real test of the institution of mediation. It’s time for the rubber meet the road, as they say in America.

– The President also noted that Azerbaijan is working closely with the new administration of the White House. I would like to ask you about Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the new US administration. What is the form of this cooperation? Although the President spoke about cooperation with the United States on energy and security, he did not say a word about human rights and democracy throughout his speech. Do you think that was a message too? Or is there a prior agreement on the lack of cooperation in this area?

– Let me start with the end of the question because you just put your finger on the core of the issue right there…

It is felt that President Aliyev and his entourage are reluctant to use the term “human rights” when talking publicly about their contacts with the United States, even though these were among the topics that dominated dialogues for the past two months. Just look at the Department of State’s readout on the phone call betweeen the Secretary of State, Blinken, and President Aliyev on April 28: the message of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms was listed there even before the Minsk Group and NK topic. However, the official propaganda machine of Azerbaijan does not use a single syllable about it when talking about contacts with Washington. A similar sentiment can be senced in President Aliyev’s statements. The White House however, in a congratulatory letter to Baku this week, reiterated the importance of human rights and freedoms.

The Azerbaijani leadership must understand that the expression of universal values should not be embarrassing for any country in the 21st century, on the contrary, the existence of a dialogue on this issue would ensure transparency and longevity in relations. During his speech on May 20, President Aliyev also stressed the importance of trade cooperation with the United States, although officials in Washington are spending significant amount of time on the idea of not only reducing and cutting trade with countries with mass human rights abuses, but even imposing sanctions on them when necessary.

If the Azerbaijani government really wants to attract the interest of Western investors to the country, first of all, it must create conditions for freedom of expression “inside the house”, the activities of civil society and the media, and restore an independent judiciary. It would also help eliminate a climate of mutual distrust in contacts with the new White House leadership. In any case, any administration is interested in looking forward with optimism.

Thus, at a time when Washington is putting human rights diplomats at the forefront of international relations, the Azerbaijani leadership’s openness to fundamental freedoms – and its openness to dialogue in this regard – should be the first step in expanding cooperation with the West. And all journeys start with the first step…



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