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The governments of the U.S. and some European countries, concerned with securing alternative sources to the Middle East for oil and natural gas, limiting Russian influence in the region, and bolstering Turkey's role in the Caucasus and Central Asia, have become increasingly active since 1996 in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has welcomed western governments' increased interest, and has encouraged the presence of multinational oil companies and the construction of pipelines on routes independent of Russia to offset Moscow's influence. As a result, the U.S. and some European countries have strongly advocated Azerbaijan's integration into European and other international structures such as the World Trade Organization and the Council of Europe.

The United States

In a major speech outlining U.S. policy in the region in July 1997, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott emphasized that "independence, prosperity and security" were mutually reinforcing goals for the countries in the region, and that it was in the interests of the U.S. government to promote these aspirations.21 Talbott outlined four priorities in the region: promotion of democracy, free market economic reform, peace and cooperation among countries of the region, and their integration into the international community.

An outgrowth of this policy has been increased military cooperation between Azerbaijan, the U.S., European, and other governments under NATO auspices and through other bilateral programs. This derives in part from the need to ensure Azerbaijan's stability and the safety of the large investment that would be represented by pipelines to ship oil and gas reserves from the landlocked region to world markets. During President Aliyev's state visit to the White House in August 1997, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and President Aliyev signed a joint statement on future U.S.-Azerbaijani defense and military relations. The joint statement advocated Azerbaijan's active integration into newly emerging European security structures, including NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. An accompanying document expressed a willingness to continue exploring security cooperation through a bilateral security dialogue begun in March 1997. In January 1998, Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade stated at a Tokyo investment conference that the government had consulted informally with NATO regarding security arrangements for oil pipelines, and the government has subsequently advocated that a peacekeeping force under NATO auspices be deployed in Nagorno Karabakh. U.S. and European officials have made no on-record public responses to these suggestions. Meanwhile, other U.S. allies, such as Turkey, have signed military training agreements with Azerbaijan and are active in training personnel of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The U.S. government, along with Russia, has been active as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, established under the auspices of the OSCE, in peace talks to settle the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. A cease-fire was declared in May 1994, but the subsequent talks to determine Nagorno Karabakh's political status have yielded no results to date. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the influential chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Operations Appropriations, indicated in March 1998 that he would favorably consider Clinton Administration proposals for allocation of up to 1,500 U.S. troops to an OSCE-sponsored peacekeeping or observer force should a political agreement on Nagorno Karabakh's status be reached.22 This was significant as it represented the first public statements by U.S. officials regarding willingness to consider committing U.S. ground forces to the region.

The formulation of U.S. policy toward the region reflects divisions between the executive and legislative branches. The most significant of these occurred in 1992, when Congress adopted the Freedom Support Act, a foreign assistance bill, whose Section 907 precludes direct U.S. assistance to the government of Azerbaijan "until the president determines that Azerbaijan has taken demonstrable steps to lift its blockade of Armenia and ceases offensive use of force against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh." All humanitarian assistance must therefore be channeled through U.S. nongovernmental organizations. The Clinton Administration has repeatedly opposed Section 907. The Azerbaijani government deeply resents the restriction, which it views as indicative of Congress' bias in favor of Armenia in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

European Union and Council of Europe

The European Union's (E.U.) stated policy focus is on promoting the long-term political and economic independence of countries in the region, and their full integration into the international community.23 The E.U. is the single largest donor to the nations of the Caucasus, and by May 1998 Azerbaijan had received assistance totaling ECU 208 million in grants and ECU 51 million in loans.24 In April 1996, Azerbaijan signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with the E.U. (which is conditioned on respect for human rights) that is expected to go into force after ratification by the parliaments of all E.U. member states in mid-1999. An interim agreement currently governs trade and economic cooperation between the E.U. and Azerbaijan, including participation in the E.U.'s Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Central Asia (TRACECA) project. The project aims to increase the political and economic independence of the Caucasus and Central Asia from Russia by creating an East-West transport corridor with upgraded roads, port facilities, and other transportation networks, such as oil and gas pipelines. The E.U. has also been active in providing humanitarian assistance for refugees and reconstruction in an area near Fizuli, a region that until late 1993 had been occupied by ethnic Armenian forces.

The Council of Europe granted Azerbaijan guest status in June 1996, and Azerbaijan's application for full membership is pending. The council is a forty-one member international organization that views its main role as strengthening democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and since 1989 has played an increasingly active role in central and eastern Europe. The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers has stated that a significant rapprochement between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe would require implementation of major democratic reforms and a commitment by countries in the region to resolve their conflicts by peaceful means.25

As part of the procedure governing Azerbaijan's accession, rapporteurs and parliamentarians from the council's Parliamentary Assembly have made several trips to Azerbaijan to review the compatibility of the country's legal system with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights. A September 19, 1997report by Council of Europe lawyers noted in its conclusions that, "What is required above all is a change in mentality of those in power who do not tolerate any form of opposition."26 The report further called for extensive reform of the judicial and legal system, a radical improvement in detention conditions for those in pretrial detention and for prisoners who were on death row at the time the report was written, and for judicial control of police and procurator actions during criminal investigations.

Multilateral Lending Institutions

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and multilateral development banks such the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are active in implementing economic stabilization and restructuring programs, and in sector-specific lending. By January 1999, the IMF had provided a total of U.S.$320 million in credits, while by mid-1998 the World Bank had provided a total of U.S.$290 million. In addition, the World Bank's International Financial Corporation, its private sector lending arm, and the EBRD, along with several commercial banks have committed a total of U.S.$400 million in financing for the refurbishment of the Baku-Supsa pipeline; the pipeline through Russia; and other facilities.27 The World Bank and IMF have made part of their lending conditional on the adoption of laws reforming the police and procuracy. The law on the police was under consideration in parliament in early 1999; no law on the procuracy had been adopted as of this writing. According to IMF and World Bank lending documents, these laws were projected for passage in June 1999.

21 Strobe Talbott, "A Farewell Flashman: American Policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia," speech delivered July 21, 1997 at the Central Asia Institute of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. At the time, Talbott was Acting Secretary of State.

22 March 31, 1998, hearing of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriation Committee chaired by Sen. Mitch McConnell on Caspian Energy programs in Washington, D.C.

23 See for example, "The European Union and Georgia: Promoting Regional Co-operation in the South Caucasus," speech by Hans van den Broek, member of the European Commission, on June 3, 1998, at Tbilisi State University.

24 Cited in MEMO/98/41 E.U.-Azerbaijan relations, May 29, 1998, Brussels.

25 "Parliamentary Assembly rapporteurs in Baku, Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh," Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly press release issued in Strasbourg on June 12, 1998.

26 Rudolph Bernhardt and Marek A. Nowicki, Report on the Conformity of the Legal Order of Azerbaijan with Council of Europe Standards (Strasbourg: The Council of Europe, September 19, 1997), p. 46.

27 February 17, 1999, press release issued by the World Bank International Finance Corporation.

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