U.S.- Azerbaijan relations described as 'strategic partnership' - Katz

Thu 26 November 2015 11:12 GMT | 15:12 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Jason Katz, the head of the Tool Shed Group (consulting the governments of the foreign countries, NGOs and corporations in the areas of strategic communication and policy).

The contacts between Azerbaijan and the US officials have been intensified. What are your thoughts about that? May we accept it as a sign of improvements of bilateral relations?

Since former President Heydar Aliyev’s decision to take Azerbaijan’s foreign policy on a decidedly Western-leaning path, Washington and Baku have enjoyed close bilateral relations. This foreign policy tack has been expanded impressively by current President Ilham Aliyev. The relationship to this day is regularly described as a “strategic partnership” by U.S. diplomats and officials. 

It is true that there seemed to be a cooling of relations between Baku and Washington, however, I believe that was more a result of the U.S. not quite being able to get its foreign policy house in order, rather than any sort of disassociation with Baku.  

Recent contacts between Baku and Washington are most encouraging. The recent delegation headed by Bridget Brink, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and organized by the US/Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce is a good example. 

Direct discussions with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov highlighted the strategic partnership between Baku and Washington in the realms of energy, counter-terrorism and regional security and serious discussions were held about expanding this cooperation.

In addition, and extremely consequential, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus met with Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, and Minister of Defense Col. Gen. Zakhir Hasanov during a recent visit Baku. "The United States and Azerbaijan have a long-standing partnership that we look forward to maintaining and continuing to strengthen," said Mabus. "This partnership has been both well established and mutually beneficial." "The United States government and our Navy and Marine Corps are committed to working with Azerbaijan's security ministries to further our mutual interests and help Azerbaijan contribute to regional security," said Mabus. "It is my hope that the cooperative military engagements we have planned for the future will only strengthen our military connection."

Some experts assume that the US will be less sensitive about human rights issues due to new security challenges in Azerbaijan and entire region. What do you think about that? 

I don’t see the U.S. being less sensitive to human rights issues, even through the prism of security concerns and realities. I do hope to see a more balanced and pragmatic view of human rights, however. Criticisms of human rights in Azerbaijan is spoken about in the same sentence as human rights in Syria and Sudan, etc. To even the casual observer, that is a ridiculous manner with which to deal with human rights issues. The reality is that many nations have serious and dire human rights issues—Azerbaijan is not one of them. 
I would not be considered a casual observed, rather a well-heeled one—and I can tell you that all nations have problems with human rights, including the U.S. That said, there are scores of nations whose human rights records need to be addressed well and long before that of Azerbaijan. In fact, perceived human rights issues in Azerbaijan are better dealt with on a domestic public policy level and not the foreign policy level—it just doesn’t rise to the level of foreign policy and other nation’s involvement in Azerbaijani domestic affairs.
One question on the last developments in Syria. May it weaken or strengthen role of US in the Karabakh settlement? 

The situation in Syria vis a vis the role of the U.S. in that conflict and its effect on a Nagorno Karabakh settlement is a good question. 

It can be better addressed in terms of examining the U.S.’s diplomatic and political strength globally and that of the U.S. military in the sense of the U.S.’s willingness to use military force. Directly linked to this is how the U.S. is perceived by allies and enemies alike. 

These past years, the U.S. has taken a backseat in the realm of international relations, leaving important decisions and negotiations to others, often less equipped for the task. Believing that retreat and disengagement was good policy, the U.S. has left vacuums of power that have been filled by less agreeable powers, ISIS being one of them. It has also left the U.S. with parties more willing to push the envelope, so to speak.

In essence, many of the U.S.’s foreign policy decisions has cost it political and diplomatic capital. I think the U.S. is preparing to recapture this capital and use it for positive pursuits, such as a resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. If one listens to speeches given by any of the top-tier presidential candidates from either party, each is preparing to lead the U.S. out of the foreign policy forest and into the light—meaning that we can look to expect a much more robust, coherent and engaged U.S foreign policy soon.




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