Int’l conference participants: U.S. should pay more attention to South Caucasus

Int’l conference participants: U.S. should pay more attention to South Caucasus

U.S., Washington, D.C., Oct. 11 /Trend N. Zajicova/

The U.S. capital is at a standstill due to the federal government shut down, but the Hudson Institute together with the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security held a conference this past Thursday on the "Rise of Radical Islamism in the South Caucasus: The Threat and the Response."

A large group of leading experts, representing think tanks, government, business, media outlets, and diplomatic communities, gathered to share their opinions on the threat of extremist foreign influences agendas.

The Hudson conference underscored the need for domestic and international commitment to ensure political pluralism and co-existence.

Scholars called for the preservation of the region's unique diverse heritage, cultures and identities that will ensure secure and stable future for the region.

Dr. Joshua Walker, who until recently was adviser to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, said, "The Turkic world is in an unfinished trip west-from Genghis Khan to the gates of Vienna in 1683, to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk."

The first panel, moderated by Hudson Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis, Dr. Richard Weitz, focused on "The Threat of the Rise of Radical Islam in the South Caucasus." Dr. Svante Cornell, a Research Director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at School of Advanced and International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, explained the importance of understanding that "radical Islam in South Caucasus is an externally induced phenomenon. It is a terrorist threat."

Dr. Brenda Schaeffer, Professor at Haifa University and Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University, and Dr. Alex Vatanka from the Middle East Institute, emphasized the destabilizing role Iran plays in regional politics, especially its efforts to attract imams to the region.
The second panel of distinguished experts titled "Domestic and International Response to the Spread of Extremism and Radicalism in the South Caucasus," was moderated by Dr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Michael Rubin from American Enterprise Institute, Ambassador Temuri Yakobashvili, a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the GMF, and Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, discussed the role of Russia, regional relationships, especially Iran, in the spread of extremism and radicalism in the South Caucasus. "Russia is exporting instability as a function of its failure "said Ilan Berman.
Former Congressman Dan Burton, who during his 15 terms as a United States Representative served as Chairman or Ranking Republican Member on all Foreign Affairs Subcommittees and recently as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, said that the U.S. leadership has tendencies to be naive when dealing with the threat of Iran and the expansion of radical Islam.

"US Administration is not paying enough attention to relationships with allied governments such as Azerbaijan," Burton said.
In conclusion, Congressman Burton reiterated the need to support America's friends and allies, such as Azerbaijan and said "radical Islam supported by Iran and others is something we need be concerned about every day."

The speakers agreed that South Caucasus today is a low U.S. foreign policy priority, and is likely to become even less so, as American troops withdraw from Afghanistan. Speakers went on to stress the need for a greater U.S. involvement in the region, not only to support our allies, such as Azerbaijan, but to deter also America's enemies.

"This is the time of American leadership - If the Sunni Arab states are truly US allies, they need to curb their support of Salafi terrorism. Such support is not acceptable in the era of symbolic diplomacy," Cohen told Trend following the conference.

"As for Iran, we still need to remember that an op-ed (by President Rouhani in the Washington Post) and a phone call (with President Obama) are not enough to change U.S. policy towards Iran. Iran must stop its nuclear-weapons program, and as a truly peaceful country, and must discontinue exporting its radical Shiite brand of extremism and terrorism," he said.

According to him Iran needs to cease being a threat to its neighbors near and far including Azerbaijan.
"America needs to stand by its friends and allies," Cohen concluded.

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