Armenia & Azerbaijan: Karabakh Should Be the First Nut to Crack
Matthew Bryza, the frustrated US former envoy to Azerbaijan, has retired from the State Department. But that doesn’t mean he can’t offer some useful advice on how to solve several diplomatic dilemmas in the South Caucasus.
Speaking at a recent Washington, DC, event organized by the Jamestown Foundation, Bryza identified internal reform, energy, and security as the three pillars of American foreign policy in the Caucasus. Energy and security may dominate media headlines, but internal reforms should be considered the lynchpin of America’s regional policy, Bryza suggested. If reforms are “not moving forward … we can’t have sustainable partnerships with the countries of the South Caucasus because internally there won’t be stability,” he said.
Reflecting on his ambassadorial tenure in Baku, Bryza said that “there is a huge gap” in US policymaking regarding Iran and the South Caucasus, with Iranian experts seemingly ignorant of how their policies might impact those working on Caucasus issues. He went on to note that the United States had missed some “pretty big opportunities” in the Caucasus in recent years.
From Bryza’s perspective, the biggest conundrum in the Caucasus is Nagorno-Karabakh. Solve that, and it could have a positive diplomatic domino effect across the region. Unfortunately, he added, the United States “has lost its way in the last few years,” as the Karabakh peace process took a back seat to the failed Turkish-Armenian normalization effort.
The only way to overcome the current deadlock in Karabakh negotiations is for Washington to focus on the issue and exert pressure on the Armenian and Azeri leaderships.
“The problem is that neither president [Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan] trusts his counterpart sufficiently to take the final step and agree” on a comprehensive peace formula, Bryza said during the May 2 talk at Jamestown. The stalemate will continue until the US government “leans in at a very senior level and helps break the ice” between the two presidents. Prior to taking up his responsibilities in Baku, Bryza served as US co-chair of the Minsk Group, the OSCE entity overseeing the peace process.
Bryza said “Turkish-Armenian normalization is also a very important process,” but cannot occur “in the absence of a breakthrough in Nagorno-Karabakh” since Azerbaijan’s allies in Turkey will hinder reconciliation until Karabakh is resolved.
Bryza went into an early retirement at the start of 2012 after the US Senate declined to confirm his recess appointment as ambassador to Azerbaijan. US-based Armenian Diaspora organizations had expressed strong opposition to the appointment. US President Barack Obama is nominating former US diplomatic Caspian energy trouble-shooter Richard Morningstar to fill the vacant ambassadorial post in Baku.