USA wants speedy reforms in Azerbaijan

USA wants speedy reforms in Azerbaijan

Zerkalo, Baku
12 Mar 04

The key goal of US officials’ recent visits to Baku was to persuade
the Azerbaijani leadership to carry out radical economic and political
reforms, Azerbaijani daily Zerkalo has said. Washington wants
Azerbaijan and other South Caucasus countries to share its values and
pursue its policy. To that end, the USA is trying to attract
Azerbaijan to NATO and has promised Baku assistance in reorganizing
its army, Zerkalo said. However, the paper said, Washington’s military
aid is linked to the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict
over Nagornyy Karabakh. Azerbaijan will have to make some compromises
in the peace talks, and US officials seem to have partly convinced the
Baku government, the daily said. The following is an excerpt from Rauf
Mirqadirov’s report by Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo on 12 March
headlined “Washington insists on speedy reforms in Azerbaijan” and
subheaded “The White House will wait for another three months”;
subheadings inserted editorially:

Americans dominate Baku

Americans dominated Baku this week. Never has the capital of
Azerbaijan seen so many high level delegations during the course of
one week. Moreover, one cannot help but notice that predominant among
the Americans landing in Baku were State Department emissaries and
military officials.

Judge for yourselves. At the beginning of the week there was a
delegation from the US airforce college together with US Deputy
Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Lynn
Pascoe. Staying in the capital yesterday was a delegation headed by
the US State Department deputy director for European security and
political affairs, Eric Schultz, and the deputy political adviser at
the US mission in NATO, Bruce Rogers.

And arriving today in Baku from Washington is yet another very
impressive delegation comprised exclusively of military and diplomatic
officials. This time it is a mission of the supreme advisory council
to the US European Command (EUCOM), headed by the deputy commander of
the US European Command, Gen Charles Wald. Also part of the delegation
are Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe Adm Gregory
Johnson and many ambassadors of various ranks.

In a word, Azerbaijan is keeping diplomats and military officials
busy, while economic questions have moved down to the second order of
importance. It is clear why. The most important geopolitical task of
the USA in the region involving economic aspects has already been
resolved. The building of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is already
under way, and all the problems connected with the financing of this
project have been resolved.

Need for radical reforms

Today, the Americans are trying to accomplish several tasks at the
same time.

First, to talk the Azerbaijani leadership into some radical economic
and political reforms. As we have already learned from well-informed
diplomatic sources, this theme was key to questions discussed between
Lynn Pascoe and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Once again Pascoe brought to Baku’s attention the White House’s
position, concluding that relations between the two countries could be
raised to a qualitatively higher level only through assurance that
both governments share the same values, i.e. adhere to the principles
of democracy, respect and uphold human rights and liberal democracy.

If we put all the abovementioned from the diplomatic language into
plain language, Pascoe’s statements imply that Azerbaijan should share
the values recognized by the USA.

Pascoe, however, noted that the White House did not rule out the
possibility of inviting Ilham Aliyev to Washington on an official
visit before the US presidential elections. But, the same diplomatic
sources say that Pascoe stated that such an invitation could take
place only if Baku did not confine itself to verbal promises but took
real steps towards putting reforms into practice.

Washington gives Baku another three months

Delegation members did not hide the fact that Washington was
disappointed with the developments in Azerbaijan and with Baku’s
activities since 15 October [presidential elections]. Azerbaijani
officials were informed about this in a private conversation with a
member of the American delegation. At the same time, he [the
delegation member] said that Washington would wait for another three
months. If, by this time, serious steps towards reforms have not been
taken, then Washington will totally lose its faith in the ability of
the current Azerbaijani leadership to lead the country on the path of
integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures, with all ensuing

Second, the USA will try not to lose the initiative in the South
Caucasus to other players in the geopolitical game, above all, to the
European Union and Russia. Pascoe said this with typical American
straightforwardness at a meeting with Aliyev. Pointing out the growing
interest of the European Union in Azerbaijan and other countries of
the region, Pascoe said that the USA was making every effort “not to
stay behind” this competition.

USA wants “great changes”

The US diplomat said that he intended to discuss a number of issues
with Aliyev and to hold an exchange of views on “great changes” in the
region. In fact, Pascoe hinted that Washington was worried about an
undisguised increase in the activity of the European Union in the
South Caucasus, where up until recently the USA has regarded its
position as unshaken. However, now that “a democratically-elected
president” came to power in Georgia, the European Union is ready to
include the South Caucasus countries into its Wider Europe – New
Neighbourhood policy. This means that the EU sees the region within
its ranks in the near future. It is no coincidence that in Baku,
[Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili proposed creating a
mini-European Union of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Having left the
Azerbaijani capital, he included Armenia and then Russia in this list.

Things are clear with Russia – the EU does not want to see it as its
member for good reasons, at least in the near future. But the EU views
the South Caucasus as a single geopolitical and economic space. It is
no coincidence that the EU’s special representative for the South
Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie, has more than once said that this
organization treated equally all the three countries of the region.

USA wants South Caucasus to pursue its policy

The USA, in principle, is not against this prospect but would like to
see the South Caucasus countries as countries pursuing Washington’s
policy, like Spain, Poland and some other countries in the Eastern
Europe. Therefore, the USA is trying to attract the countries of the
South Caucasus, above all Azerbaijan and Georgia, to NATO where
Washington still has the final say. The USA thinks that this process
should be completed over the next two or three years.

However, except for the aforesaid, the armed forces of the regional
countries have to be reorganized to meet NATO standards and also the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has to be resolved. Strange as it may
seem, but these two problems interrelate.

It is no coincidence that at a meeting with Azerbaijani Defence
Minister Safar Abiyev, Eric Schultz and Bruce Rogers discussed
strategic partnership between Azerbaijan, the USA and NATO. US
ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish noted at the meeting that
US-NATO cooperation with Azerbaijan and other countries of the South
Caucasus was aimed at eliminating instability in the region. He said
that the USA intended to continue cooperation with Azerbaijan to
ensure security. Harnish noted that the USA was expecting Safar
Abiyev’s visit to the USA where aspects of military cooperation
between the countries would be discussed.

[Passage omitted: at a meeting with the US delegation, Safar Abiyev
said the liberation of Karabakh was priority]

USA promises military assistance

The matter is that without a settlement to the Karabakh conflict, the
USA cannot render proper assistance to Azerbaijan to reorganize and
upgrade the army in compliance with NATO standards.

Suffice it to say that the Armenian group of the Congress took
painfully the US decision to allocate to Azerbaijan in military
assistance several million dollars more than to Armenia.

We have learned from diplomatic sources that during the negotiations
in Baku, Washington’s emissaries promised assistance to Azerbaijan in
reorganizing the army and in creating a large unit under NATO
standards within two or three years.

Need for compromises

However, Azerbaijan will have to make certain compromises in the
Karabakh peace talks.

It seems that the emissaries have managed to partly convince Baku’s
officials. Not long ago, the Azerbaijani leadership did not rule out
that the negotiations had to be started from scratch. However, Ilham
Aliyev recently expressed his surprise at a pessimistic statement made
by the Russian deputy foreign minister over the situation in the
negotiations to settle the Karabakh conflict.

Aside from this, against the background of the US week in Baku, a
surprising report has emerged saying that Aliyev will pay a visit to
Bratislava (Slovakia) on 18-19 March to attend an international
conference “Towards a Wider Europe: The new Agenda”.

[Passage omitted: list of countries which are to attend the