Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 12
By Aygun Badalova - Trend:
Trend Agency's exclusive interview with David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
- You are a well-known public figure in America's Jewish community. In your view, what is the strategic importance of the US-Azerbaijan relations, especially in light of close cooperation between Baku and Washington in countering violent extremism as well as promoting European energy security and regional cooperation?
At AJC, we have long believed in the importance of the strategic partnership between Washington and Baku. In today's tumultuous world, the United States needs friends and allies it can count on, especially in such significant and sensitive areas as the southern Caucasus region and the Caspian Sea. And, of course, Azerbaijan, with larger neighbors, needs the dependability and constancy of its relationship with the US to help address its security and other pressing concerns.
- Azerbaijan and Israel enjoy a strong partnership. What is the significance for Israel of having a partner in a diverse, tolerant and inclusive nation with predominantly Muslim population?
I know well the importance Israel attaches to its wide-ranging ties with Azerbaijan, and vice-versa. For Israel, Azerbaijan represents a key partner, and the fact that a Jewish-majority state enjoys such warm links with a Muslim-majority state disproves the inevitability of religious conflict and demonstrates instead the remarkable chances for cooperation and coexistence. These are lessons that ought to have global implications.
- America's treatment of its friends and allies is not always fair. Azerbaijan has been a subject of the infamous Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and, recently, Congressman Chris Smith introduced a bill calling for sanctions on Azerbaijan, a long-standing regional partner of US. What is your view on this bill, which, ironically, comes at the time when Washington is normalizing its relations with Cuba and lifting sanctions on Iran?
We have known Congressman Chris Smith for more than three decades. He is a cherished friend, and there were few more steadfast and admired advocates for the human rights of Soviet Jews and dissidents until the USSR imploded in 1991. But on this particular issue we part company with our friend. We oppose his proposed sanctions against Azerbaijan. They are not in America's national interest, nor are they called for.
- Recently, the AJC, hosted Israeli Ambassador in Baku along with Azerbaijan's Ambassador in Washington for a series of meetings in US. Can you tell us more about this unique initiative and about the US Jewish community's work with Azerbaijan?
AJC has made a determined effort to introduce many Americans, including American Jews, to Azerbaijan, as this is a country otherwise unfamiliar to many people here. In that spirit, we have visited Baku with delegations on many occasions and will, of course, continue to do so.
We have welcomed Azerbaijan's minister of foreign affairs to our annual Global Forum, where he spoke to more than 2,000 attendees. We have made it a point to meet Azerbaijan's ambassadors during our travels in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, and introduce them to local Jewish communities. We have invited Azerbaijan's ambassador to Washington, permanent representative to the United Nations, and consul general in Los Angeles to countless AJC events and discussions.
And yes, we were delighted to host Israel's ambassador to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan's ambassador the US for an innovative, week-long series of meetings, speeches, and programs in a variety of settings from Washington to New York. All of this is done in the enduring spirit of friendship that has characterized AJC's relationship with Azerbaijan.