Monday, August 27, 2007

U.S.-Azerbaijani security talks in Washington

Originally published in July 14, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

U.S., Azeri officials discuss security issues
Azerbaijan’s threats over Karabakh, democratic record glossed over
By Emil Sanamyan

WASHINGTON – U.S. and Azerbaijani officials discussed security cooperation in talks held here this week. Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov led a delegation that included officials from six of Azerbaijan’s seven militarized agencies to the U.S. for the “10th annual bilateral security dialogue.”

The visit was originally scheduled for April but it was postponed after Azerbaijan protested a correction to a passage pertaining to the Karabakh conflict in one of State Department’s reports that was later reversed.

While U.S. is seeking Azerbaijan’s cooperation to undermine Russian energy dominance in Eurasia and help contain Iran, Azerbaijan’s own domestic record and threatening posture towards Armenia appear to be taking a back seat.

In a July 9 press-conference, Mr. Azimov said that his government was ready for an “increased partnership with the U.S. whose commitment to Azerbaijan’s… sovereignty and total integrity remains unswerving,” a veiled reference to Azerbaijan’s claims on Karabakh.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza weighed in that while his government has a “deep commitment to Azerbaijan’s… territorial integrity,” in the matter of the Karabakh conflict it is also looking for a compromise between that principle and “people’s right to self-determination.” And, he added, “there’s no universal formula… to do that.”

Mr. Bryza did not raise Azerbaijan’s continued threats to launch a war in Karabakah. He described cooperation on security, energy and democratic reform as the three focal issues in bilateral discussions.

Asked if the matter of the recently intensified crackdown on mass media in Azerbaijan, particularly the imprisonment of Eynulla Fatullayev had been raised in talks, Mr. Bryza said that “we’re going to do it probably tomorrow.”

But Mr. Azimov retorted that such issues are not “related to the current agenda of my presence here” and that security cooperation and democratic issues should be addressed separately.

Meantime, U.S. human rights advocates argued during a July 12 congressional hearing that U.S. “could better balance human rights promotion with other strategic interests,” the Washington-based Freedom House reported the same day.

The think tank’s executive director Elizabeth Windsor said in a statement that Azerbaijan, like Cuba and Egypt “arrests journalists for practicing their profession, stifles meaningful political competition, shows a blatant disregard for internationally recognized human rights, and seeks to isolate its people from the global dialogue on freedom.”

Unlike Cuba, which is under U.S. embargo, both Egypt and Azerbaijan, including their security agencies directly implicated in human rights violations, are recipients of U.S. assistance.

When first announced last week, the hearing was titled “Is there a Human Rights Double Standard: U.S. Policy Toward Azerbaijan, Cuba and Egypt.” But earlier this week the title was changed to “Ideals vs. Reality in Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

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