The Azerbaijan State News Agency

POLITICS

Guivami Rahimli: “…Azerbaijan’s aim is to transform the role of energy in international relations from fueling disagreements to oiling cooperation…”

Baku, March 28, AZERTAC

Azerbaijan’s independence was recognized by the United States in December 1991, right after the collapse of the USSR. However, in 1992, US Congress adopted Section 907 to the Freedom Support Act, which banned any direct aid to Azerbaijan, the only exception to the 12 newly independent states of the former Soviet Union receiving US government aid for facilitating economic and political stability. And this happened despite Armenian invasion and occupation of the Karabagh region, that expelled about one million Azerbaijanis from their native lands, internally displacing hundreds of thousands of women and children, forcing them to leave their homes, and start new ones in refugee tent camps, scattered across the small country.

Obviously, the powerful Armenian American lobby groups in the US Congress had a role to play in USA’s reaction to the atrocities and aid provision.

The successive administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both opposed Section 907, considering it a barrier to maintaining an unbiased US foreign policy in the region. During a meeting with President Heydar Aliyev in 1997, President Clinton indicated that US Congress was poised to alter its stance on Section 907, ultimately leading to its repeal.

The US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in her 1998 letter to the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Bob Livingston, wrote:

“Section 907 damages US national interests by undermining the administration's neutrality in promoting a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh, its ability to encourage economic and broad legal reforms in Azerbaijan, and efforts to advance East-West energy transport corridor.”

However, the resistance of US Armenian community and lobby in the Congress persevered and Section 907 was not repealed that year.

Despite antagonism of the Congress, US government approach towards Azerbaijan was mostly determined by energy benefits and this became peak topic for mutual interests. The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns at the Georgetown conference in 2009 along with energy sector, outlined other main areas of interest for the United States in its bilateral relations with Azerbaijan including security cooperation, and economic reforms.

US-Azerbaijan relations in the economic sphere developed primarily in the context of Caspian energy resources and their transportation to the Western markets.

Russia's role in controlling the major energy sources concerned the USA in terms of energy security. The United States was capable to support the oil pipelines from the Caspian Region to the West which bypass Iran and Russia and would serve better to American interests.

American companies were actively involved in the development of Azerbaijan’s offshore oilfields in the Caspian, and the United States actively supported the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline as the main export route of transportation for Azeri light oil to the Western markets.

The Washington media outlets called Azerbaijan "the one remaining friend that America has in the Caspian basin", commenting the visit of the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, to Azerbaijan in January 2008. During this working trip together with Senate colleague Barak Obama, Senator Lugar in a letter sent earlier to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also suggested that they need to endorse "a special representative focused on energy issues in the Caspian to safeguard long-term US interests."

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Congress passed the foreign appropriations legislation of 2002, granting President the right to waive Section 907. In view of Azerbaijan's contribution and support for the US military operations in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush waived Section 907 in January 2002, and the US presidents following him further extended that waiver.

At the meeting with the US Secretary ‎of Energy Spenser Abrahams in September 2002,‎ President Heydar Aliyev said:

“…finally, Mr. President Bush took a special decision and Section 907 was suspended. We think that the suspension of Section 907 is good. But it must be completely repealed. This is a political issue. … we have been living with Section 907 for ten years and we can further do it. But application of Section 907 to Azerbaijan and its continuation are political issues. Despite it we continue to develop our cooperation with the United States in all the spheres… The USA is our strategic partner and our joint work in the Caspian Sea proves it clearly.”

US-Azerbaijan security relations developed along several paths, including Azerbaijan's active participation in the NATO's Partnership for Peace program and the US-led missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, and the bilateral military cooperation to ensure Caspian energy and transportation security.

In November 2011, US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus met with President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Abiyev highlighting military cooperation and ensuring the security of key energy infrastructure in the resource-rich Caspian Sea.

"I am thankful to Azerbaijan on global security, its efforts in Afghanistan, regional and European energy security," Mabus said.

During US delegations visits to Baku, officials of Azerbaijan government include site trips to the most important strategic asset in this region, Sangachal terminal, to see first-hand oil and gas developments. It was a great honour for bp to host these visits at Sangachal terminal and I have been privileged to accompany these VIP delegations, showing progress of the terminal facilities, which create a greater ‘sense of occasion’ of Azerbaijan’s long-term oil and gas development options.

US visiting delegations were high-level, including several along government officials, also congress members. Congressmen were mainly representing the energy, intelligence, and foreign relations committees.

There were quite a few notable memories from these trips that I was hosting at Sangachal terminal. Among them that I recall distinctly the visit of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte who was impressed with ongoing developments:

“Yesterday I had an opportunity to visit the Sangachal Terminal, where I saw firsthand how these Southern Corridor projects are strengthening energy security in Europe and beyond. From the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline to the South Caucasus Gas pipeline, our partnership is deepening..., thereby diversifying energy supplies in European and global markets.”

Other US Government delegations’ visits included:

- Frank Urbancic, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, #2 person on Counterterrorism Issues at State Department

- Four Star General Charles Wald and Senator Chuck Hagel with a delegation of senior US executives and military officers

- A group of senior US military officers - Generals and Admirals as part of the U.S. military's CAPSTONE program

- Congressmen: Representative Darrell Issa and Representative Loretta Sanchez from California

- Senators Richard Lugar, Barak Obama, Bob Corker

- Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces in Europe, Major General Tracy Garrett

- U.S. European Command Director of Intelligence, Brigadier General Gregg C. Potter

- Special Presidential Envoys C. Boyden Gray, Steven Mann, Richard Morningstar, US Ambassadors to Azerbaijan

- Assistant Secretary Geoffrey R. Pyatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Kimberly Harrington, and many other US delegations

These trips gave the visitors from USA a real flavour of what the Sangachal terminal entails as bp’s major operating centre in the world. The US senior officials shared their impressions with extremely positive feedback, highlighting the potential and importance of Azerbaijan and bp as a ‘force for good’, leading these huge developments for the whole region.

Today, the Southern Gas Corridor which crosses six countries, coming ashore in Southern Italy, provide a new source of energy to Europe from Caspian region and along with Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa oil pipelines, increase security of supply, serving as a good platform for “win-win” cooperation for years and decades to come. These supplies are a blessing to Europe, which was almost dependent on the pipelines from Russia.

With its world class oil and gas reserves, as well as growing renewable energy resources, Azerbaijan’s aim is to transform the role of energy in international relations from fueling disagreements to oiling cooperation, thereby diversifying energy supplies in European and global markets.

Guivami Rahimli

PhD, Professor at Baku State University,

lecturing energy security, multilateral and regional diplomacy at the faculty of international relations

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