To the north of Iran is another U.S. ally that faces regular open threats, terrorist incursions and Islamist radicalization sponsored by Iran. Azerbaijan is unique among Iran’s neighbors in that ethnic Azeris make up about 20 percent of Iran’s population, with the major Iranian city of Tabriz as their center. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is an ethnic Azeri. Due to Azerbaijan’s staunchly pro-Western stance, however, Iranian senior officials have openly discussed annexing the country and regularly threaten to strike Azerbaijan’s oil and gas pipelines that lead to Europe. Shiite-majority Azerbaijan has therefore forged a close relationship with Israel, jointly producing drones and monitoring Iranian movements.
Azerbaijani leaders have stated publicly that they would like nothing more than a good working relationship with their neighbor to the south, but only as part of a comprehensive rapprochement — one in which Tehran would not only promise to stop pursuing nuclear weapons but also lose its aggressive regional stance. Barring that, the nuclear deal is only cause for worry among America’s regional partners.
Congress should urge the administration not only to reassure its allies that they will not be sacrificed at the altar of expediency, but to work closely with them, and take their interests into account. If Obama is serious about dramatically altering the U.S. position toward Iran, it would make sense to do so as a coalition of concerned states, not by leaving Iran’s neighbors behind.
Alexandros Petersen is author of “The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West.”