'South Caucasus continues to be one of main priorities for US foreign policy'

Mon 02 May 2011 02:38 GMT | 06:38 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Cory Welt, associate director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University.

How would you describe the current level of Azeri-US relations?

It’s no secret that Azerbaijani-US relations have gone through a troublesome period, but I’m confident that they are returning to their previous substantive level. The relationship appears to have been largely repaired.

It seems that the South Caucasus and its problems are not in the priority regions list of the U.S. foreign policy. Is it true?

On the contrary. The South Caucasus continues to be one of the main priorities in the Europe and Eurasia region for U.S. foreign policy. Outside of that region, U.S. foreign policy of course has several other priorities requiring U.S. attention, but I don’t really see a difference in the level of attention paid to the South Caucasus now than in previous administrations. We also should keep in mind the significant domestic challenges that the United States has been focused on these last few years.

What are the main differences in Bush and Obama administration’s approach to the Karabakh problem?

Overall, I’d say there’s been more continuity than difference. But one major change that has occurred under Obama was the decision made jointly with the other Minsk Group chairs to publish the basic principles, which have been proposed as a foundation for resolution of the conflict. I think their publication was a helpful step, as it led – and should continue to lead – to greater discussion within societies regarding the importance of deferring a formal resolution to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for resolving all other negative consequences of the conflict.

Also, in line with Obama’s foreign policy in general, the current administration has been more welcome of an active Russian role in the conflict resolution process.

Russia has been playing a very active role as a mediator in the Karabakh process. Can we see the U.S. more active in the Karabakh settlement in near future? And are the interests of U.S. and Russia in the settlement the same or contradict each other?

I see the Minsk Group and the Russian mediation processes as complementary, not in conflict. Russia surely has its own interests in pursuing a settlement, but in general I think that the Russian government is genuinely supportive of a resolution based on the basic principles that it has been instrumental in developing.

Such a resolution does not reduce Russian influence in the region, and it might even increase it, given the boost in Azerbaijani-Russian relations that will result. Assuming a resolution based on the basic principles is possible, the biggest question is whether Russia, the U.S., and the EU will be able to agree with Azerbaijan and Armenia on appropriate security arrangements on the ground.

Do you believe in imminent progress in the Karabakh settlement?

I am cautiously optimistic that Azerbaijan is prepared to resolve the conflict in stages along the lines of the basic principles. I think all actors need to work with Armenia to elaborate a compelling vision of permanent security and genuine self-government for Nagorno-Karabakh that would be guaranteed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the international community, as well as to continue to press home the more obvious benefits of open borders and administrative lines that will result with an acceptance of the basic principles.

Reassuring Armenia that withdrawal from territories around Nagorno-Karabakh will in no way undermine the security and self-government of Nagorno-Karabakh is just as important as persuading Armenia of the necessity of that withdrawal.

Leyla Tagiyeva




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