Details added (first version posted on 11:35)
Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 21
The close US-Azerbaijan partnership can be better explained by three major strategic factors: Azerbaijan's significance as an energy transit point linking Central Asia to Europe; the country's resistance to Russian sovereignty violations in Georgia and Ukraine; and Azerbaijan's solidarity with the US against both terrorism and Shiite radicalization, said the article by Samuel Ramani published in the Washington Post.
"Azerbaijan has extensive offshore oil reserves on the Caspian Sea and is an important link in the energy trade between central Asia and Europe," said the article. "US companies have invested substantially in developing the oil and natural gas industry in the Caspian Sea."
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have treated the stable and expanded flow of energy from this region as vital to the US geopolitical interests, Ramani said in his article, adding that stable Caspian Sea energy trade dilutes Europe's dependence on Russian gas and restricts Iranian influence, thereby strengthening US allies relative to its long-standing adversaries.
In 2008, the Republican Senator Richard Lugar, then head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described Azerbaijan as the US sole friend on the Caspian basin, a friend valuable as an oil supplier to US allies, according to the article. Lugar also expressed the need for the US to appoint a special representative tasked with preserving long-term US interests in the Caspian Sea, Ramani added in his article.
Azerbaijan would become an even more important player in the global energy trade if Turkmenistan manages to build its proposed Trans-Caspian Gas pipeline, the author said. This pipeline would link Turkmenistan, which holds the world's fourth largest natural gas reserves, to the European Union, placing Baku at the center of the energy transit network, according to the article.
In response to increased Western interest in Azerbaijan, Baku has since 2004 rhetorically supported Azerbaijan's increasing integration with Europe, the article said.
For much of the post-Soviet period, Azerbaijan has carefully balanced its foreign policy between Russia and the West, the author said.
"Azerbaijan's refusal to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in favor of pursuing closer economic ties with the West took its long-standing balancing act between Europe and Russia to a new level," according to the article.
Western countries seeking allies in the post-Soviet region have had few choices, the article said. Armenia is a staunch Russian ally, Ramani said in his article, adding that Georgia's sovereignty has been undermined by Russia's incursions at its border. And so the US and NATO have expanded military cooperation with Azerbaijan, especially in the Special Forces and navy, to maintain a foothold in the Caucasus, said the article.
Ramani said in his article that Azerbaijan also works with the West against terrorism.
Since September 2011, Azerbaijan has cooperated with the US on counterterrorism efforts, the article said. "Many US allies in Europe and the Middle East opposed the 2003 Iraq War - but Azerbaijan opened its airspace for US planes working to topple Saddam Hussein's regime," the author said. "And Azerbaijan was a transit hub for more than one-third of the fuel, food and clothing used by US military personnel in Afghanistan."
Azerbaijan has also helped preempt a major terrorist attack against the US and Israeli embassies in Baku in 2012 by arresting 22 Azerbaijanis for alleged cooperation with Sepah, an Iranian terror group, Ramani said.
Azerbaijan is also working against the terrorist group "Islamic State", the article said.