Azerbaijan’s development as strong, prosperous country in US interests – ambassador (interview)

Azerbaijan’s development as strong, prosperous country in US interests – ambassador (interview)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 26

By Anakhanum Khidayatova - Trend:

Trend interviews US ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta

Q: "Azerbaijan Democracy Act" caused for deep concern in Azerbaijan. Individual initiative of US Congressmen, of course, does in no way reflect the position of US Administration. But we have not seen the official reaction of United States Administration and respectively, US Embassy on that account. How you would explain this silence?

A: As the Embassy has said publicly, we do not comment on draft legislation. This is the usual practice for us because of the separation of powers within the United States system. The legislature - or Congress - is separate from the Executive Branch, which includes the President, the State Department and other departments (what would be ministries here in Azerbaijan), and the judiciary are all separate from each other, something that was set out in our Constitution. That said, I have seen a lot of speculation in local media that reflects a misunderstanding of our legislative process. Our embassy has provided an overview of how draft bills get introduced by a member of Congress, get reviewed, and considered by members of the different legislative bodies and so forth to our social media accounts, and I encourage anyone interested in understanding the facts to review that information.

Q: It is widely shared view that this draft act is a product of ANCA and Armenian lobby organizations' efforts in US to harm US-Azerbaijan relations. The recent developments and visits between Baku and Washington may probably cause for their concern. It reminds us 907 Section which was considered an issue negatively affecting the US interests in Azerbaijan. It shows that ethnic lobby groups in US can challenge the national security interests of United States by promoting certain legislative acts and narrow agenda. How you will comment on that?

A: In keeping with our practice of not commenting on draft legislation, I'm not going to engage in speculation. However I would again put this in the perspective of the overall legislative process. This is a bill introduced by a member of Congress, something that any member can do. Every year, thousands of such bills are introduced, reflecting the concerns of the Members of Congress and their constituents. So far this year, over 7,000 bills have been introduced by members of the two houses of our Congress, but given the various factors at play, just over 100 were approved by both houses, signed by the President, and enacted into law. Our system is different from that in other countries and I would again encourage anyone interested to look into the process in the United States by which draft bills move through Congress.

Q: We do believe that bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and United States are highly valued by Washington as well. In geopolitically key region Azerbaijan remains partner of US, contributes to global fight against terrorism. Shoulder to shoulder American and Azerbaijan soldiers served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a majority Muslim society there is no elements of anti-Americanism in Azerbaijan. In this light of this draft bill how do you see the perspectives of partnership between the two countries?

A: Let me be very clear, The United States continues to place a high value on our relations with Azerbaijan. It is important that we have a strong, positive relationship with Azerbaijan. To maintain, to strengthen that relationship and to realize the maximum benefits our partnership can bring, both sides need to feel comfortable raising their concerns with the other. Both sides also need to trust that the other is approaching our relationship with respect, with good will, and from an honest desire for mutual benefit, even when dealing with issues where we may not agree. All countries, including the United States, benefit from having an open, ongoing conversation about the challenges we face both internally and internationally. I can assure you that is the case for the United States, and from my discussions with Azerbaijani officials, I believe the same is true from their side.

In light of that, I want to flag something you've heard many times, but that bears repeating. Our cooperation with Azerbaijan is broad. It covers economic, security, and of course, democracy interests. The reason I keep stressing all these points is because for Azerbaijan to be strong, it needs to be strong in all of those areas.

In your previous question, you mentioned U.S. national security interests. I want to stress that it is in the U.S. interest for Azerbaijan to develop as a strong, stable, democratic, independent, prosperous country, just as it is in Azerbaijan's own desire to do so. In a region faced with uncertainties we see today, this has perhaps never been more true.

So we continue to engage on all fronts. Our security cooperation focuses on helping to make Azerbaijan more resilient to emerging threats, and in doing so helping to enhance security in the region and beyond. A strong economy is the backbone of a strong country, so we are excited about opportunities to support Azerbaijan's economic diversification, including its efforts to enhance the transportation sector as a critical link in a revitalized east-west trade corridor. And linked to all of these efforts is our continued engagement with Azerbaijan to strengthen the rule of law and democratic institutions, to support the kind of vibrant civil society that can partner with the government in achieving those shared goals of stability, prosperity, and independence.

Q: After Bern meeting of Presidents on December 19th, how do you see the perspectives of negotiations based on the current proposals as it was referred in OSCE MG co-chairs statement?

A: As Ambassador Warlick, the U.S. Co-Chair, has said, it was important for the Presidents to talk face-to-face and clarify their positions. They discussed a range of issues, including violence along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border, and proposals regarding a settlement. Although there were no breakthroughs in Bern, it is important to note that the Co-Chairs and the sides recognized the value of the Presidents' dialogue and the Co-chairs will work to bring them together again in the coming year. The Co-Chairs will continue their work with the Foreign Ministers on proposals regarding a settlement, on measures to reduce the risk of violence, and on programs to promote dialogue between the communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. As U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, I fully support the efforts of the Co-Chairs to help the sides reach a much-needed settlement to the conflict.

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