Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

America and Azerbaijan: Strained Relations Must be Mended | Commentary

Just two decades ago, the Republic of Azerbaijan emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union as a modern, progressive and secular Muslim-majority nation and has since been a staunch ally of the West.

Azerbaijan has enjoyed close cooperation with the United States and the West, particularly in the realms of energy, security and antiterrorism. Never has that been more evident than when U.S. and NATO forces were engaged in wars in Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Azerbaijani troops served with honor alongside U.S. troops in Iraq, having the distinction of being the only Muslim troops on our side. Azerbaijan removed them only as part of the overall troop drawdown.

Azerbaijanís troops still serve with U.S. and NATO troops in International Security Assistance Force operations in Afghanistan. It is important to note that Azerbaijan has become a key transit hub for those forces and materials making their way to Afghanistan, as the Russian Federation has systematically intimidated the regionís governments in order to choke off other transit hubs.

Enhancing Azerbaijanís strategic importance is its proximity to Iran and the Russian Federation. As one of the few post-Soviet nations to show real independence in the face of Russian resurgency, President Ilham Aliyev has positioned Azerbaijan in a supportive role of the West, while maintaining strong independence. In terms of Iran, a friend sharing a border contributes to Western security in the face of Iranís nuclear threats and copious terrorism exports.

Azerbaijan is a significant player in the energy security of Europe. This became more robust when Azerbaijanís state energy company, SOCAR, inked a deal to build the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which will supply Europe with the Caspianís vast natural gas resources through Greece and Albania to Italy.

The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline compliments the growing network of pipelines and transit routes that Azerbaijan has built in partnership with the West. This includes the all-important Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan oil pipeline that so vitally contributes to energy diversity of Western markets and, notably, supplies 40 percent of Israelís oil.

The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline will provide roughly 10 percent of Europeís natural gas, alleviating Europeís debilitating dependence on Russian energy and politics.

Much of this would not be possible without the crucial supportive role of the United States, Azerbaijanís most critical ally. Yet, recently, the United States reacted in a markedly rash and uninformed manner to the re-election of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ó a move that has strained the nationsí close bilateral relationship to a degree not seen before.

In a statement by State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, the Obama administration aimed to cast doubt over the legitimacy of the re-election of Aliyev. She stated, ďThe United States continuously urged the government of Azerbaijan to ensure a free and fair electoral process and to respect the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech. It is with regret that we conclude this election fell short of international standards.Ē This to Aliyev, a leader who always staunchly supports the United States, working faithfully with successive administrations and both sides of the aisle in Congress, while maintaining a stable and reliable ally in an otherwise stormy region.

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