BAKU: Envoy to Azerbaijan upholds USA’s regional policy

Envoy to Azerbaijan upholds USA’s regional policy

Zerkalo, Baku
11 Sep 04

The US ambassador to Azerbaijan, Reno Harnish, is satisfied with
progress achieved by the OSCE Minsk Group in settling the
Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict. Only peaceful means are acceptable for
restoring Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, Harnish said in an
interview to the Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo to sum up the results
of his first year in office. Harnish also said he sees no reason for
the USA to excuse itself for its policy on Karabakh. He dismisses
criticism by Azerbaijani opposition leaders blaming their failure in
the 2003 presidential elections on the USA which “sacrificed democracy
for the sake of stability in Azerbaijan”. The ambassador said he was
pleased with progress in US-Azerbaijani anti-terror, military and
economic cooperation over the past year, as well as with US policy in
the region. The following is the text of R. Mirqadirov and
E. Mahmudov interview with Reno Harnish by Azerbaijani newspaper
Zerkalo on 11 September headlined “‘The USA doesn’t see why and for
what it should be apologetic,’ US ambassador Reno Harnish said
commenting on America’s policy as a co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk
Group”. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

The US ambassador to Azerbaijan, Reno Harnish, visited Zerkalo this
week. To speak figuratively, it was a kind of “report and elections
meeting” for Mr Harnish. Harnish accomplished the first year of his
diplomatic service in Baku last August. The year was pretty hard and
controversial. As a result, our talk with Mr Ambassador was getting
tense at some points. Like in any “report and elections meeting”, the
floor was first given to the “main culprit”.

Last year’s achievements

[Harnish] My wife and I have been living and working in Azerbaijan for
a whole year now. It’s a beautiful country, it’s very nice to work and
live here. It has sights to see and places to relax. I can say right
at the start that relations between Azerbaijan and the USA got even
stronger during that year. President Ilham Aliyev met Secretary of
State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld visited
Azerbaijan on two occasions. Apart from this, US Deputy Secretary of
State Richard Armitage and several delegations of high-ranking
representatives of the administration paid visits to your state.
Furthermore, the well-known US Senator McCain visited Baku and,
lastly, Presidents Ilham Aliyev and George Bush met in Istanbul.

Speaking about mutual relations between our states, I want to point
out that the USA welcomes the policy of Azerbaijan’s Turkish-style
integration into Western structures. From this point of view, the USA
would like to see Azerbaijan stepping up and expanding its integration
into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. US-Azerbaijani relations
are expanding in several directions. The first one is the fight
against international terrorism. The USA started this struggle three
years ago, on 11 September. Terrorism has one and the same face
everywhere. Suffice it to recall the recent blasts in Spain after
tragic events in other states and finally the actions committed in
Russia last week.

We are glad to see Azerbaijan being perfectly conscious of its
national interests. The National Security Ministry’s recent official
statement citing all cases of arrests of terrorists on Azerbaijani
territory proves this once again.

Second, we’ve achieved great success and done a lot to create an
East-West energy corridor. Back in February, the USA applied much
effort to provide funding for this project. Now we’re doing our utmost
to have the construction of the main export pipeline
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan completed on time. We’re going to further
cooperate with Azerbaijan in implementing energy projects. This
applies both to the project to transport Kazakh oil using the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and exporting Azerbaijani gas to Europe.

Third, we actively cooperate with Azerbaijan in settling the Karabakh
conflict. During these years, that is since the presidential elections
in Azerbaijan and Armenia, we’ve stepped up our mediatory efforts in
settling the Karabakh conflict. The USA has repeatedly stated that it
does not recognize Nagornyy Karabakh’s independence. The USA has also
repeatedly stated its support for the territorial integrity of
Azerbaijan. We jointly tried to do away with the Saddam Husayn regime
and now we are actively working together to form independent bodies of
state power in Iraq.

Fourth, we have close cooperation in matters of security. We’ve
organized training for Azerbaijani peacekeepers. Iraq is the most
brilliant proof of our cooperation in this domain. Azerbaijan has also
gained other dividends from taking part in peacekeeping operations in
Iraq. Your military have gained hands-on experience of dealing with
NATO standards. Both President Ilham Aliyev and practically all
political parties have pointed out that this benefits Azerbaijan’s
national interests.

Fifth, the USA wants to see Azerbaijan as a democratic state with a
well developed market economy. To achieve these two goals, we need to
cooperate in many areas. Out of 75m dollars allocated for Azerbaijan
in US aid, more than 30m dollars is going into efforts to develop
democratic processes in Azerbaijan. We financed the visit of
international observers to the presidential elections, organized
courses for representatives of the electoral administration and local
observers. Now we suggest implementing other programmes related to the
forthcoming municipal elections.

We welcome the programme for regional development and we’ve drawn up
projects to help its implementation. We are ready to support any
initiatives to develop private enterprises in Azerbaijan. We also want
to help Azerbaijan organize the management of oil revenues. We are
going to offer technical aid to relevant state bodies in implementing
this goal. We’re ready to help the Azerbaijani government to fight
corruption. This evil is one of the main factors hampering economic

Overall, I am satisfied with the job done during this year.

Current US-Azerbaijani relations

[Correspondent] Rumours have been actively circulated of late about
preparations for Ilham Aliyev’s visit to the USA. Is this information

[Harnish] If the president of Azerbaijan pays an official visit to the
USA in the future, it will benefit both states. Earlier I spoke about
areas of US-Azerbaijani cooperation. A visit by Ilham Aliyev and
several leading ministers of the government would give an additional
impetus to our cooperation. Yet I don’t think that such a visit could
take place in the near future while the presidential campaign is under
way in the USA; but I support the idea of such a visit and I’d like it
to take place as soon as possible.

[Correspondent] Are there any specific negotiations going on to this

[Harnish] No. As I said before, the USA is on the eve of presidential
elections. It would be wrong to plan a visit in such circumstances.

[Correspondent] We know that a change of power would hardly bring
about drastic change in US policy towards Azerbaijan. Will there be at
least a shift in accents: will some new nuances emerge, if someone
other than Bush is elected as the president? Especially in view of the
fact that Mr Kerry authored, among others, Section 907 [to the Freedom
Support Act banning US aid to the Azerbaijani government in connection
with the Karabakh conflict]?

[Harnish] Irrespective of what happened in the past, our current
relations are based on existing realities and practical
interests. When Stephen Mann [US State Department envoy for Caspian
energy issues] was asked about the Karabakh conflict, he said that the
US attitude to this problem is based on professional and practical
interests. Therefore, it would be wrong to think that election results
might terminate everything. I could cite more examples. Both the Democ
rats and the Republicans are grateful to Azerbaijan for our joint
struggle against terrorism.

Both the Democrat and Republican administrations contributed to
implementing the East-West energy corridor. Cooperation in security
and peacekeeping activity is a priority in US foreign policy,
therefore the US Congress has supported every step along these
lines. This is why I think that, whatever the election results, the US
attitude to Azerbaijan won’t change.

No plans for US forces in Azerbaijan

[Correspondent] Putin and Bush once signed a joint declaration on the
South Caucasus stating that the USA and Russia would cooperate in this
region, including for the sake of a Karabakh settlement. Nonetheless,
speaking in a recent interview to the Turkish media, the Russian
president said it was inadmissible for states that don’t belong to
this region to take part in settling conflicts in the region. Could
one say that a period of rivalry among the USA, Russia and Europe is
starting in the region?

[Harnish] The government of my country sees no serious reasons for
rivalry in this region. We’re ready to cooperate with Russia to
transform the South Caucasus into a region where peace, stability and
prosperity prevail. Joint efforts that the three co-chairmen of the
OSCE Minsk Group [from the USA, France and Russia] are taking to
settle the Karabakh conflict are a graphic confirmation of
this. Another uniting factor is our desire to see the Caspian Sea
region as environmentally clean, secure and free of weapons of mass
destruction. This is why we support with heart and soul all agreements
signed between Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan. We also welcome all
measures taken by the Azerbaijani government to ensure security in the
part of the Caspian Sea that belongs to your state.

No doubt, we are working together both to settle the Karabakh conflict
and the issue of Caspian Sea delimitation. Therefore, I want to say
again that we see no reasons for rivalry. On the contrary, we want
Russia and Turkey to step up their participation in all these
initiatives and make our effort more effective.

We and I think the other co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group are all
interested in holding a meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan
and Armenia in Astana. This proves once again that the US actions are
free of competitive spirit with respect to anyone in this region.

[Correspondent] There’s much talk in the world, above all in Russia,
about US forces relocating from western Europe to other regions. Is
there any threat to Azerbaijan of US bases emerging in the territory
of our state?

[Harnish] I don’t think that US bases may appear here. Speaking at his
news conferences in Baku, [chief of staff of the US forces in Europe]
Gen Charles Wald stated this quite clearly, if I’m not mistaken, on
four occasions. The USA is interested in relocating its forces
stationed in Germany closer to regions posing a threat of
international terrorism. But the possibility of relocating those
forces to Azerbaijan is not even being discussed at the moment.

Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity

[Correspondent] You have said that the USA supports Azerbaijan’s
territorial integrity. Nonetheless, during annual discussions by the
UN on its principles of cooperation with the OSCE, all Western states
including the USA either come out against or abstain from voting on
Azerbaijan’s amendment that the Karabakh conflict should be settled
with due regard for the territorial integrity of our state. Does this
mean that the USA finds it possible to settle the conflict
disregarding the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan?

[Harnish] The USA has voted for all of the four UN Security Council
resolutions on a Karabakh settlement laying down the international
community’s attitude to the problem the way it was in that time
span. This is a fact. The USA took part in the Lisbon summit voting
for the principles underlying the statement by the present OSCE
chairman. The principles being officially supported by the USA in this
matter are absolutely clear. However, as Stephen Mann said, being
members of the OSCE Minsk Group, we should act within the limits of
our mandate. The mandate consists in that we must find an option for a
fair and lasting conflict settlement. Moreover, it should be kept in
mind that no-one ever appointed the USA as an arbiter authorized to
decide at its own discretion on the way this conflict should be
settled. Our official position is clear but our practical steps
proceed from the OSCE Minsk Group mandate inasmuch as a settlement to
the Karabakh conflict would meet the interests of the USA.

We recently organized a meeting at my residence for the OSCE Minsk
Group co-chairmen with Azerbaijani public representatives and account
to the audience on the job done. Some representatives of the
Azerbaijani public demanded instant results and voiced a lot of
reproaches and accusations against the co-chairmen. They wanted
instant results as though the latter were gods. However, living in a
real world we can hardly expect some higher force to settle our

No to a new war

[Correspondent] The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen keep saying that they
will support any decision by the two sides to the conflict. Will the
USA support war as a conflict settlement option, if the sides decide
to clear the air in this particular way?

[Harnish] I think it would be tragic both for Azerbaijan and the
entire Caucasus. The latest war left you with a death toll of 30,000,
another 750,000 became refugees or displaced persons. It should be
taken into account that the level of armaments on both sides was much
lower at that time both in terms of quantity and quality. Today each
side has a well-armed army with a strength of about 60,000. So if
hostilities are resumed, they will inflict much more casualties than
the previous war. Moreover, they will put paid to all economic
progress achieved since 1991. There’s no need to repeat the tragedy.

In a short span of time, the foreign ministers had four meetings with
the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen. The presidents have met twice and,
as far as I understood, they are going to continue their consultations
[during a CIS summit] in Astana. The meeting in Prague has proved to
be very fruitful: the sides started discussing specific themes,
according to [Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister] Elmar Mammadyarov. We
also regard these negotiations as very important. We’d like to help in
the near future to implement the results achieved at the talks.

[Correspondent] It is certainly incorrect to compare Azerbaijan with
the USA. Nonetheless, you are an official representative of an
administration whose actions all over the world are guided by the end
justifies the means principle. Our goal today is to restore
Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, which is also supported by the
USA. If Azerbaijan starts going by the same principle as the USA, how
will Washington respond?

[Harnish] First, I don’t think that the USA pursues a policy based on
the end justifies the means principle. You will recall that all those
things which were not planned by America started after the terrorist
acts in New York. The threat came from outside. But similar events had
happened before. Over the past 10 years, unprovoked and causeless
attacks were committed on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and on
our ships in Yemen. We are sure that there’s an external threat to our

Second, we’re concerned over the threat of proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction. This issue stands high on the agenda of our foreign
policy. We’re trying to prevent the Pakistan-India conflict from
expanding. We’re concerned about Iran’s programmes to create weapons
of mass destruction.

Even those who call into question the means we use still admit that
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The US government is very much
worried about the real threat that weapons of mass destruction may
fall into the hands of terrorists. We want to prevent this threat
before it becomes a reality.

I have explained why, in the US administration’s opinion, a resumption
of hostilities is inadmissible. That is not all. It should not be
admitted also because an excellent alternative is available to settle
the conflict. The foreign ministers are good specialists and they are
holding very efficient peace talks.


[Correspondent] Iran has stepped up its regional policy of
late. Suffice it to note that Iranian President Khatami has been to
Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia during this year. The Karabakh conflict
was among the main issues discussed everywhere. Khatami officially
proposed Iran’s services as a mediator in the conflict settlement.
Does the USA admit, at least in theory, Iran’s mediation in settling
the Karabakh conflict?

[Harnish] It’s highly unlikely, at least because the international
community is concerned about Iran’s conduct on the international
scene, above all its projects to develop nuclear weapons. We hold
permanent consultation with the UN and the IAEA. Moreover, Iran has so
far ignored demands by the international community that it should
completely break off with international terrorist organizations of the
Hezbollah type. Finally, in other regions, for instance, the Middle
East, Iran has been trying to torpedo peace talks between Palestine
and Israel. However, political changes in Iran and a regime change in
that state remain an open question to us. We’d welcome this kind of

Let it be recalled that when Iran was hit by an earthquake, we tried
to establish contact with Tehran. Yet all our efforts have been to no
avail so far. Therefore, I don’t think Iran could be a good
intermediary between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

[Correspondent] Azerbaijan has been trying in vain for 10 years or so
to open a consulate in Tabriz. After Khatami’s visit, it transpired
the other day that two buildings have been selected for an Azerbaijani
consulate. Now Khatami has paid a visit to Armenia. Do you think that
Iran is thereby setting the stage to invigorate its policy in the
region, including the process of the Karabakh settlement? As you know,
part of Azerbaijan’s territory under Armenian occupation borders on
Iran. So the borders are currently under the control of Iran and
Armenia… [ellipsis as published]

[Harnish] Indeed, no-one but Iran and Armenia can know what exactly is
happening on the occupied territories. Until a peace accord has been
signed, we cannot know what’s been going on there for all these
years. Now there’s much speculation about Azerbaijan’s “pay” for
opening its consulate. I cannot know what the presidents of the two
states, Khatami and Ilham Aliyev, were speaking about face to
face. There’s a lot of speculation but I cannot say anything
particular to this effect.

[Correspondent] Speaking about the occupied territories, as far as we
understand, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the mediators interpret this term
differently. What do you mean by this term: the areas around Nagornyy
Karabakh or you also view Nagornyy Karabakh as part of the occupied

[Harnish] Karabakh appears to be the central subject of our talk
today. I would use the term being used by the international community:
Nagornyy Karabakh and the occupied territories, because the population
of the neighbouring areas was all or predominantly Azeri.

No need to change OSCE mandate for Karabakh

[Correspondent] You have said that representatives of the Azerbaijani
public demanded instant results from the co-chairmen. However, 10
years of patient waiting by Azerbaijan’s society can hardly fit in
with this definition. Still this is not the point. You argue that the
OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen cannot go beyond the limits of their
mandate. Well, if Azerbaijan returns this issue to the Security
Council and insists on adopting a resolution qualifying Armenia’s
actions as aggression and demanding that it should pull out of all the
Azerbaijani territories on an immediate, unconditional and above all
mandatory basis, will the USA support such a resolution at the
Security Council?

[Harnish] As far as I understand, you asked me if the USA will support
Azerbaijan’s motion that the Security Council introduce amendments to
the mandate of the OSCE Minsk Group. I don’t know the answer to your
question. However, looking at this question in realistic terms, I
should say that the discussion of some resolutions by the Security
Council takes months or sometimes years on end. It depends of the
content of the resolution and plenty of other small nuances. I have
said more than once that the USA wants to assist in settling the
Karabakh conflict through peace talks. This desire didn’t arise from
nought: it is based on objective premises, on the results of meetings
between the two states’ presidents and foreign ministers.

I said before that the presidential elections in both states
practically froze the peace talks. Yet the past year saw dynamic
dialogue going on between the two sides to the conflict. Previously,
the sides had twice come near to the point of making a peace accord:
in Key West and just before the terrorist act in the Armenian
parliament. [Former Deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbot, whom you
all know very well, was in Yerevan at that time. In a word, we don’t
see why and for what we should be apologetic. We want a just and
lasting peace. Nor do we see any need for radical change in the OSCE
Minsk Group mandate. We believe that the current mandate of the OSCE
Minsk Group co-chairmen is good enough to go ahead to succeed in the

Elections, democracy and human rights

[Correspondent] We are not very interested in the forthcoming
municipal elections. They will hardly have any serious political
impact. The coming parliamentary elections are a different
matter. What do you think about the situation in which they will take

[Harnish] We are ready to help Azerbaijan hold its forthcoming
parliamentary elections. We’re preparing a vast programme and we’re
ready to work with parties of various political orientation. Apart
from this, we’d like to see an expanding dialogue between the
authorities and society. Our efforts are starting now to reach their
culmination by the start of the electoral campaign.

We are paying special attention to efforts to ensure freedom of
speech. We’d like to see more of independent print and electronic
media, radio and television programmes and broadcasts. Unfortunately,
the existing television channels present the opinion of a very narrow
section of society. Now I cannot even say clearly whether a way out of
this situation is in establishing independent regional television
companies or in supporting the idea of forming public television. Yet
I can assure you that our partner organizations are working in this

We used to hold training only with four leading parties. Now the list
is much longer. Some sceptics say that the USA wants an overthrow of
the current regime. Still our goal is different. We want an
environment in which various opinions could be voiced; we want a real
dialogue in society. We are carrying out these plans with the support
of our partners: the Republican Institute and the Institute for
National Democracy.

According to our observations, the typical voter has no interest in
political processes. We want to change this situation. Such apathy in
voters is good for no-one, neither the government, nor society or the
voters themselves.

In anticipation of municipal elections, meetings are being held in the
districts with representatives from the executive branch, political
parties and other non-governmental organizations. The latest meeting
took place in Zaqatala District [northern Azerbaijan]. I am sure that
the government supports our efforts to establish dialogue among
various strata of society.

Would it be bad to get such a dialogue going at a nationwide level? If
the president, the leaders of various parties and non-governmental
organizations could get together to discuss problems existing in the
country, it would be a great initiative. Speaking with journalists
after the latest act of pardoning, Aliyev used the word
“reconciliation”. One couldn’t say that the leaders of major political
parties took the statement negatively. It was rather the other way


[Correspondent] After the presidential elections in 2003, the
opposition-minded part of society and media traditionally supported by
the USA started blaming Washington for sacrificing democracy for the
sake of stability in Azerbaijan. In addition, we heard accusations
that some high-ranking representatives of the administration,
including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of State
Richard Armitage had personal interest in keeping the current ruling
elite in power… [ellipsis as published]

[Harnish] I think that the steps being taken by the US government need
no comment. I address all opposition leaders and generally the part of
society which argues that we should have done much more during the
elections. The USA and the UK are the rare states speaking out their
mind on matters of democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan. It’s not
accidental. Democracy is the central rather than a common element in
our foreign policy.

We openly state our position on matters of democracy and human rights
during our personal confidential talks. If such efforts fail to
produce the desired effect, we are as frank in speaking out to the
public as the case was when problems arose around freedom of religion
in Azerbaijan. We stick to this position despite the fact that it
deals a blow to our trade and economic interests.

As we talked with some of the critics you are speaking about, I asked
them what else the USA could have done during the presidential
elections in 2003. Their answers boil down to the following: You
didn’t choose me to be the Azerbaijani president. We are here not to
elect president. We are here to promote the establishment of a civil
society and development of democracy.

[Correspondent] Maybe not everything is normal in US foreign policy,
including with respect to post-Soviet states, once some people
seriously think that Washington can practically appoint president in
Azerbaijan? Similar sentiments could and can be seen in Armenia and
Georgia… [ellipsis as published]

[Harnish] The USA believes that voters can follow and correctly assess
political processes going on around them and influence the behaviour
of their leaders. Over the past 50 years, we’ve helped many states
move in this direction. Suffice it to recall Germany where Nazi and
neo-Nazi sentiments used to be very strong. In many other countries we
helped create conditions to hold democratic elections. This is our
long-term goal in Azerbaijan.

[Correspondent] Does the USA take into account Iran’s 30m-strong Azeri
population in planning its policy with respect to the Azerbaijani

[Harnish] I don’t think that this factor has a serious impact on our
policy here because Azerbaijan is an independent state. We cooperate
with Azerbaijan in areas of mutual interest. I mentioned those areas

[Correspondent] Does the US policy towards Iran itself take this
factor into account?

[Harnish] Earlier I mentioned factors hampering the development of
relations between Iran and the USA, such as the making of weapons of
mass destruction, support for international terrorism and its
nonconstructive stand on the issue of the Palestine-Israel conflict
settlement. The USA is not against dialogue with Iran. On the
contrary, as I said before, there was a time when we tried to
kick-start negotiations.

If we had normal relations with Iran, we’d urge Tehran to pursue a
policy ensuring equal rights for all ethnic minorities. You know
Iran’s problems in this area very well.