Bush Administration Uses Economic Levers to Encourage Anti-Terrorism Cooperation
The United States appears intent on utilizing economic levers to solidify the anti-terrorism alliance with countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In the case of Azerbaijan, the Bush Administration is backing the lifting of sanctions against Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev's government as an enticement for continued cooperation. US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson told EurasiaNet in an interview that lifting sanctions would enhance American security interests and promote the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
In exploring the lifting of sanctions against Azerbaijan, US officials are anxious not to upset the tenuous geopolitical balance in the Caucasus. Wilson reassured that any US move to enhance cooperation with Azerbaijan would not come at the expense of Armenia. The two countries have struggled for years to reach a political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Talks have been deadlocked in recent months. Azerbaijan insists that any settlement leave Karabakh under its jurisdiction, while Armenia is adamant that Karabakh be independent of Baku.
The lifting of sanctions known as Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act would specifically facilitate the US campaign against terrorism, Wilson said.
"We have long wanted to do things in U.S.-Azerbaijan relations that Section 907 effectively prevents," Wilson said in an October 16 interview. "The cost to the United States of our inability to do some of those things is now somewhat higher than the cost was before, because of September 11."
"We should be able to significantly expand our cooperation in ways that would help Azerbaijan more effectively be able to control its borders, and to deal with other kinds of security situations and terrorist threats," Wilson said.
At the moment, Azerbaijan is aiding the US anti-terrorism campaign by permitting American jets to utilize Azerbaijani airspace and ground facilities as they transport military equipment and humanitarian aid to Central Asia. Aliyev's office confirmed that US planes have used Baku airport for stopovers.
Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act forbids the US government from granting aid to Azerbaijan except under limited circumstance, mainly in the spheres of democracy-building and humanitarian assistance. Certain trade and commerce development measures also do not fall under the ban. Congress adopted the sanctions in 1992, at the height of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in which ethnic Armenians in Karabakh defeated Azerbaijani government forces.
Wilson asserted that the move to repeal the statute was a continuance of the previous policy of the current and the previous two US presidential administrations. He stressed that the United States remains committed to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
"We have been close friends with Armenia since it became independent and nothing in that relationship is really going to change," Wilson added. "In fact, one could argue that this could help the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process move a little bit more swiftly.
Tim Wall is a freelance journalist based in Baku.