Michael Doran: 'When you start to think about bringing Central Asian energy resources to Europe you realize the importance of Azerbaijan'

Michael Doran: 'When you start to think about bringing Central Asian energy resources to Europe you realize the importance of Azerbaijan' Report's US bureau interviews Michael Doran, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at Hudson Institute, the biggest think tank in the United States.
Foreign policy
March 15, 2023 19:33
Michael Doran: 'When you start to think about bringing Central Asian energy resources to Europe you realize the importance of Azerbaijan'

Report's US bureau interviews Michael Doran, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at Hudson Institute, the biggest think tank in the United States.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a significant development of bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the United States based on common interests and values. We often hear from US officials that Azerbaijan is a reliable partner for the US. Azerbaijan's contribution to the NATO peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan was especially effective. How would you assess the future cooperation between the USA and Azerbaijan?

My impression is that there is a tremendous opportunity now for US and Azerbaijan relations standards in the face of cooperation. I think the main change has been the Ukraine war. The Ukraine war shifted the perspective of Americans in two ways. One is the recognized value of Türkiye as a counterbalanced to Russian power, but there is also an understanding of the importance of Central Asia to European energy security. When you start to think about bringing Central Asian energy resources to Europe, you realize the importance of Azerbaijan. So I think there is a sense in Washington that Azerbaijan is indeed a strategic partner of the United States. But there is a long way to go until that becomes a really formerly rooted concept here in Washington.

You have been to Karabakh, and as an eyewitness to the huge distraction and massive reconstruction process, we'd love to hear your impressions.

I had two major impressions from my visit to Karabakh. One is I was just stunned at the distraction the Armenians carried out there. It is double sounding as an American because you recognize that Armenian propaganda has created a false impression in the United States of what is going on there. The Armenians occupied for 30 years, they destroyed everything and built nothing. It is really shocking. It sounds like that statement if I make it to American ears, it sounds like I am engaging in propaganda. Of course, propaganda created the opposite impression. I have never seen anything like that. I have been to a lot of war zones and have traveled to other countries. I have never seen anything like that. The country was occupied for 30 years and destroyed everything, and built nothing. All the while, they were claiming this was their national territory, and they were building their nation there. My second impression was one of profound respect for what the Azerbaijanis are doing. Reclaiming their land, building a new nation. One can feel that Azerbaijan is a rising power, and I feel on an emotional level that my primary job is to think about American foreign policy. So I have seen the value of the US strategy regarding the rise of Azerbaijani power.

As you know, Azerbaijan came up with the first proposal to create sustainable peace in the region with Armenia, and the negotiations started based on the 5 basic principles offered by Azerbaijan. But now, we are witnessing attempts to create artificial obstacles to this process. What do you think the establishment of peace will bring to both countries of the region and the South Caucasus as a whole?

Mr. Pashinyan needs to implement what he agreed to at the end of the second Karabakh war. They need to stop mining, they need to stop the illegal exploitation of Azerbaijani resources, they need to stop laying mines that are killing people, and they need to demarcate the border. They need to open up the Zangazur corridor, and so on and so forth. Actually, in the interest of Armenia, we are all familiar with the forces working against them. Peace will definitely bring benefits to Azerbaijan, of course, but it will also bring benefits to Armenia. I'm pretty sure Mr. Pashinyan recognizes that fact. But unfortunately for him, it is a trap. He doesn't have the power based in his country to act decisively on what I believe is a recognition of peace rather than in his interest. He has a lot of forces in his countries that don't want peace, and he has forces outside of countries that don't want peace. Of his neighbors, his allies Russia and Iran, I am not convinced that they want peace. It might be possible, especially given the increasing vines of the Russians as a result of Ukraine. It might be possible to find a formula that Mr. Putin would accept. But that one required some deft diplomacy by Azerbaijan and the United States. It is good news that the White House and State Department have taken interest in peace, but I don't know how much muscle the Americans are going to put behind this.

The war in Ukraine has changed the geopolitical situation in the world and the region. In this regard, Azerbaijan's contribution to the energy security of Western countries has increased significantly. Could you please elaborate more on what consequences you are expecting from the current role of Azerbaijan in the energy security of Europe?

Well, if they, the Europeans, and the Americans stay the course. There is a recognition now, both in Europe and in Washington, that the energy resources of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, especially, can be of great help in providing energy security for Europe.

Actually, I saw the interview you gave to the Azerbaijani media, which covered my next question. But I am looking for a more detailed response. As you know, Azerbaijan-Israel relations are not new, and Baku has become a key partner in Israel's strategy.Recently, Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Israel. There are some powers who were annoyed by these developments. Besides, they try to sabotage the peace process in the region too. What do you think can be the reason for such a non-constructive and biased approach?

Particularly one of them to the south of you. That is one of the most valuable things I believe to American National Security. Number one, the value of Azerbaijan has a counterbalance to İran and the rise of this triangle between Israel, Türkiye, and Azerbaijan. That alignment, I hope, deepens and gets stronger. Of course, there are tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem. Azerbaijan is doing everything it can to reduce those tensions. I hope Azerbaijani diplomacy has been successful, and I hope it's even more successful. Because that triangle, in my mind, is of tremendous value to the United States. Because we're in an era now when the US is the American public doesn't want to support large-scale military involvement direct military involvement by American forces in places that are far away from the United States. If we're not going to do it with our own military forces like we did in Afghanistan, Iraq. We only choose through our partners. In my view, the American interest is the Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Israeli interests, for the combined interest is 100% aligned with the American interest. There is, however, up-again another obstacle. That's the traditional worldview of the Biden administration. This is the same worldview as the Obama administration. President Obama wanted to broker a strategic accommodation between the United States on the one hand and Russia and Iran on the other hand in order to stabilize the Middle East. President Bayden's team is almost in the Middle East is identical to President Obama's team, and all came in that worldview. They continue to have it. That's why we have seen all the things that Iran has done. Iran has been supplying drones to Ukraine, killing protesters on its own street, and carrying out plots to kill Americans on American soil, including former US officials. It is enriching Iran beyond anything acceptable under the terms of the JCPOA or the non-proliferation treaty. Despite all of these violations and more, the administration is still trying to get a return to the JCP away and find some kind of accommodation with Iran. That desire to get along with Iran leads to a lack of appreciation of the value of Azerbaijan.

As a follow-up question, I want to touch on the US Congress. Unfortunately, some incomprehensible statements and behavior of members of the US Congress cause serious concern for the Azerbaijani people. What is your point of view on this situation?

You know that there is significant influence by ethnic lobbies in Congress. The Armenian Lobby and the Greek Lobby, and others are putting a lot of resources into foiling Azerbaijani efforts to settle the conflict along terms that are acceptable to Baku. This is just a fact of life. Azerbaijan is also, I would say, a kind of indirect victim of the attitudes toward Türkiye in Washington or in the United States. Türkiye has a lot of enemies. And there is no domestic lobby supportive of Turks. As a result, there are always obstacles in Congress. But as we said, there is rising strategic appreciation in the White House, State Department, and the military of the value of Azerbaijan. That will have effects on many of Congress as well. So there are obstacles in Congress, and there always will be. That has to be taken as a fact of life.

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