BAKU: US in race for influence in South Caucasus

AzerNews, Azerbaijan
March 18 2004

US in race for influence in South Caucasus

Last week the United States sent three onsecutive ‘delegations of
landing troops’ to the capital. Emissaries of the Department of State
and military made up the majority of the members of the delegations.
The delegation of the U.S. college of Air Forces, which arrived in
Baku early last week,

was led by a top officer and also included Lynn Paskoe, Assistance
Secretary of State. However, leading the third U.S. delegation to
Baku was General Charles Wald, Deputy Commander of the U.S. European
Command. Admiral Gregory Johnson, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in
Europe and Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Southern Europe,
was also among the delegates.

On March 11, a U.S. delegation led by Bruce Rogers, U.S. Deputy
Political Advisor of NATO’s mission, and Erik Schultz, the U.S. State
Department’s Deputy Director on security and political issues in
Europe, held important meetings in Baku. The aim of the three
delegations’ visits was to discuss political and military issues but
not economic ones, as the issues on economic relations including on
the financing of the BTC pipeline have already been settled. Today,
the United States is eager to solve some questions in Azerbaijan.
First, it is trying to direct the leadership of Azerbaijan towards
conducting economic and political reforms in the country. According
to a diplomatic source, the economic and political reforms were one
of the primary issues discussed at President Ilham Aliyev’s meeting
with Lynn Paskoe. During the unofficial meeting one of the U.S.
delegates even stated that Azerbaijan has to take real steps in this
respect, noting that the United States will wait only three more
months. The delegate stressed that if during this period no serious
steps were taken in the direction of reforms, the United States would
find it hard to believe that the leadership of Azerbaijan would
manage to integrate the country into the Euro-Atlantic structures.
The second problem that the United States wants to settle is not to
give the initiative in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus to the
European Union (EU) and Russia. The United States wants to see the
South Caucasus countries as ones pursuing the U.S. government’s
policy in the EU. Pointing to the EU’s increasing interest towards
Azerbaijan, Lynn Paskoe directly stated that the United States was
not willing to ‘lag behind’ in this rivalry. He also voiced his
desire to exchange views with President Ilham Aliyev on ‘great
changes’ in the region. However, Azerbaijan and Georgia should be
admitted to NATO soon so that the United States could achieve its
goals. For this purpose, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces should be
brought to NATO standards. Above all, it is necessary to settle the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Upper Garabagh. Reno Harnish, the
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, who also took part in the meeting of
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev with Erik Schultz and Bruce
Rogers, stated that the United States and NATO are eager to cooperate
with the South Caucasus countries including Azerbaijan and establish
stability in the region. The U.S. government is waiting for Safar
Abiyev to visit Washington to define the ways for bilateral military
cooperation. Abiyev’s standpoint is that of the Azerbaijani state and
people. While receiving the delegation of the U.S. college of Air
Forces on March 9, the defense minister said, “Today, the primary
duty of the Azerbaijani Army is to liberate our lands from Armenian
occupation. It would be better if the Upper Garabagh conflict were
solved peacefully within Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and
international legal norms. If no peace is achieved, we will free our
lands by any means necessary.” A U.S. delegation led by General
Charles Wald, who visited Baku on March 12-13, concluded the ‘U.S.
week in Baku’.

The meetings
On Saturday President Ilham Aliyev received a U.S. delegation led by
General Charles “Chuck” Wald, Deputy Commander of the U.S. European
Command. A two-day visit by the Senior Advisory Group (SAG) of the
U.S. European Command started on Friday.

NATO to expand strategic cooperation
The U.S. delegation of senior government and military officials
included Admiral Gregory G. Johns, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in
Europe and Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Southern Europe,
Ambassador Kenneth L. Brown, Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas,
Ambassador Lloyd Hand and Ambassador Robert Hunter. Noting that the
Azerbaijani-U.S. relations are developing successfully in all
spheres, President Aliyev said that bilateral cooperation was of
great importance to strengthen peace and security in the region.
Underlining that Azerbaijan plays a very important role in ensuring
security in the region, Aliyev underlined that he backed the peaceful
solution to conflicts within the international legal norms. Aliyev
stressed that Azerbaijan was an ally of the United States anti-terror
combat and this alliance would continue in the future. The
Azerbaijani President further voiced his confidence that his country
would continue to cooperate with the United States to ensure the
security of pipelines as part of the Caspian Energy Resources
Development program. Touching upon the fight against global
terrorism, General Wald stressed that the recent terror attack
committed in Spain once again showed the necessity for broad
cooperation in this field. Underlining that the Caspian border guard
program is continuing successfully, General Wald expressed the
necessity for close cooperation among the Caspian states in this
respect. He particularly stressed that Azerbaijan’s current foreign
policy suggested that there would be positive changes in the
settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Upper Garabagh.
At the meeting with Azeri Defense Minister Safar Abiyev on Saturday,
General Wald stressed that NATO intended to expand strategic
cooperation with Azerbaijan and assist in guarding this country’s
energy resources. He also expressed his gratitude to the leadership
of Azerbaijan for the country’s active role in fighting international
terrorism. Admiral Johnson said, “Azerbaijan has rich natural
resources in the Caspian Sea. The cooperation between the U.S. navy
and the Azerbaijani navy may ensure the security of these resources.
Joint activities in programs on non-proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction are also included in the sphere of this cooperation.”
Touching upon the Cooperative Best Effort-2004 desert training held
in Azerbaijan, Admiral Johnson stressed that “the high-level
organization of the training would reaffirm that Azerbaijan was a
leading country in the region.”
The U.S. delegation held a briefing at the International Press Center
on Saturday. General Charles Wald said that the aim of the visit was
to develop “strategic and military cooperation with Azerbaijan and to
discuss future cooperation in this sphere with President Ilham
Aliyev.” Underlining that the United States doesn’t intend to station
its military bases in the region, General Wald said military
relations would also be established with Russia. Noting that his
meeting with President Ilham Aliyev made a deep impression on him,
the General said, “Ilham Aliyev is a prominent person in this
region.” Admiral Johnson said that together with Azerbaijani Defense
Minister Safar Abiyev he observed the Azerbaijani Navy and Border
Service. Johnson underlined that during his meeting with Abiyev,
fighting international terrorism, joint activity in the
non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and on maintenance
of stability in the region were in focus. Further, Admiral Johnson
thanked the Azerbaijani government for assuming the organization of
NATO training to be arranged in Baku this April with participation of
seventeen countries as part of the NATO’s Partnership for Peace