Amos Hochstein: Azerbaijan plays critical role in overall national, economic security of Europe (exclusive)

Amos Hochstein: Azerbaijan plays critical role in overall national, economic security of Europe (exclusive)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 21

By Aygun Badalova - Trend:

Trend Agency's exclusive interview with Amos J. Hochstein, US Secretary of State's Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs, Bureau of Energy Resources.

Can you please share your views on the current state of the U.S. - Azerbaijan relationship?

The United States and Azerbaijan enjoy a strong relationship, working together for the last 23 years since Azerbaijan's independence. We have strengthened this bilateral relationship though our partnership on regional energy security. As is often the case with friends, we don't always agree on all things but we clearly understand the importance of the relationship. Both our countries work hard to ensure that whatever differences we may have don't affect our shared strategic interests both regionally and internationally.

You are known as a strong supporter of the Southern Gas Corridor. Can you please tell us what you think about Azerbaijan's contribution to regional and global energy security?

Azerbaijan plays a critical role in global energy security and in particular a key role for real energy security in Europe. In the 1990s, when the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, or the BTC, pipeline was being conceptualized, it was the vision and understanding of the leadership of Azerbaijan, who in sharing that vision with then President Clinton, at that time recognized that this pipeline was about more than just oil in a pipe, it was about the strategic nature of Azerbaijan as a member of the international community and the world energy community.

This pipeline allowed for oil from the Caspian region, for the first time, to reach international markets on a free market basis. I see the Southern Corridor as completing the circle that began with President Heydar Aliyev in the 1990s with BTC and being completed by President Ilham Aliyev with the Southern Gas Corridor.

Europe today suffers from a legacy of infrastructure that commits several countries to an untenable position of being forced to buy gas from Russia, a single dominant supplier who uses that position as political leverage for economic and political coercion. The Southern Corridor bringing gas from Azerbaijan all the way into Europe, is the only true diversification project in Europe today because it brings new gas through a new route providing real option for competition.

That is why I believe Azerbaijan's role in energy security in Europe is so critical and since energy security is the foundation of economic security and national security for every country, that means Azerbaijan plays a critical role in the overall national and economic security of Europe.

Secretary of State Kerry and other high-level officials often mention the Southern Gas Corridor in their speeches. Everyone also remembers the strong support of the US for the strategic and successful Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan oil pipeline. What does the US do in support of the Southern Corridor? What is your own role in this process?

As the Secretary of State's Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs, I've dedicated a significant portion of my time over the past nearly five years I've been in this job, to ensuring the success of the Southern Corridor. Many years ago, at the beginning of the BTC discussions, most people doubted the possibility of translating the BTC from a vision into a reality because of the political challenges such a pipeline posed and yet it has become a reality.

Compare that to the ambition of the Southern Corridor which is an even more complicated pipeline. It requires the building of infrastructure from Azerbaijan, through Georgia, Turkey, Greece to Albania and ultimately to Italy with an interconnection from Greece into Bulgaria.

This involves several governments, several systems of governance, different regulations, and a wide variety of legal issues; not to mention the technical complexity of such a pipeline. The United States, who has no companies involved in this project and has nothing to gain economically, believes that this critical project is so important that we have followed it from day one until today.

We have worked to ensure that we do whatever we can, on an almost weekly basis, to offer the kind of support that smooths out differences when they arise and helps figure out the way forward when difficulties present themselves.

While I can't go into details of diplomatic engagements, I can assure you that not a week goes by when I or my team are not having discussions on these issues. And I want you to know, the commitment to this project is shared beyond my efforts but also by Secretary Kerry, Vice President Biden and President Obama; all have supported this project with action, not just speeches and words.

Recently, a bill driven by the Armenian lobby was introduced by Congressman Chris Smith. This bill does not just hurt the U.S. - Azerbaijan relationship, it also undermines strategic projects such as energy security and transportation that the US supports and has a negative impact of US allies in Europe as well as Israel and Turkey. What is your view on this bill? Some say the US Administration is against the bill, while some believe the State Department is behind it. Is there a clear answer to these questions?

It must be understood that the United States has three branches of government and that our Congress plays its own role. Every member of Congress has the prerogative, the right, to introduce legislation.

The process is a long one requiring adoption of proposed legislation by both our House of Representatives and Senate; only then can it be signed into law by the President if he or she so chooses. I don't comment on what is and is not appropriate for Members of Congress to do. Each Member is entitled to express their views and propose legislation. But I will remind you that at this time it is a proposed legislation. The U.S. Department of State is not involved in legislation as that is the purview of the United States Congress.

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