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Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said the US new government’s foreign policy for the South Caucasus region remains unclear to Baku although four months have passed since President Joe Biden took office in January.
The statement was made as part of the international conference titled “New vision for South Caucasus: Post-conflict development and cooperation” that took place in Azerbaijan’s capital city on April 10-13.
Biden’s administration has not contacted Baku with regard to regional developments, including the latest war in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region. The administration of the former US president Donald Trump did the same, according to President Aliyev.
“The US was absent and we resolved the problem. I am not saying that the US should be absent, but we didn’t get any message from new administration so far. Any message. Zero,” the Azerbaijani president said during the conference.
“So, we didn’t get any messages, we don’t know what is the position of the US government on issue related to our region. I received kind letter from President Biden with respect to Novruz holidays and I am grateful for that, but that was probably the only message of congratulations. I know this kind of messages as I send them to some other countries,” he added.
Azerbaijan’s top official is convinced that Washington’s new government should deliver a balanced foreign policy in the region, particularly with regard to its relationships with Armenia and Azerbaijan as a Minsk Group co-chairing country.
“Mr. Blinken called Pashinyan, I don’t know what they talked about, but again, the balance is disturbed. I am not saying that we are waiting for the call of Mr. Blinken, but it’s a co-chair. They should at least behave in the way that is balanced,” President Aliyev explained.
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken has reportedly discussed the bilateral relations between Yerevan and Washington in a phone call with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on March 6. Blinken said the US welcomed efforts aimed at achieving a lasting political solution to the conflict in the Karabakh region.
Earlier, in his confirmation hearings in January, Secretary Blinken said the US should foster the security of Armenia, which he believed was crucial in accelerating Washington’s involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations and could help prevent another war in the region. He has also vowed to review security assistance to Azerbaijan due to the last year’s war in the Karabakh region. Blinken believed that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan still needed a permanent settlement and the US would engage with key stakeholders to find it.
President Biden criticized the lack of such engagement at a time when Armenia and Azerbaijan were fighting in the autumn of 2020 in the Karabakh region. Washington’s actions were limited in urging the sides to stop fighting due to the fact that the war coincided with the US presidential election. In an October 28 statement, President Biden said his predecessor Donald Trump must “push for an immediate de-escalation.”
“The United States should be leading a diplomatic effort to end the fighting, together with our European partners, and push for international humanitarian assistance to end the suffering; under my administration that is exactly what we will do,” the statement read.
Since his swearing-in in January, neither President Biden nor an official in his administration contacted the Azerbaijani authorities to discuss the relationship and the post-war developments in the Karabakh region. Analysts believe that such a stance testifies to the failure of the White House to deliver on its commitments as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the primary international organization co-led by Russia, France, and the US aimed at mediating the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Daniel Baer, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), believes that the new US administration should see the South Caucasus region as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of serious US engagement.
Baer explains that more active US diplomacy in South Caucasus could guarantee more hope for progress. He is convinced that the Biden administration can take four steps to encourage Armenia and Azerbaijan toward a lasting peace, including press for implementation of the ceasefire, support humanitarian work and resettlement activities, drive a region-wide economic development strategy and reinvigorate diplomacy.
“The US, co-chair of the Minsk Group, should have ambassadorial rank. Washington should energetically push the co-chairs to meet regularly along with the OSCE team on the ground to chart and implement a strategy for addressing the irritants that rarely make headlines but hamper day-to-day progress,” the analyst wrote. “In addition, Washington should begin talks with Moscow about a United Nations Security Council resolution to ratify the Nov. 9 ceasefire and call for a full peace agreement.”
The tripartite ceasefire agreement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia brought an end to the 44-day war in the Karabakh region that started on September 27 as a result of Armenian provocations. The document reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s territorial regains in more than 300 settlements, including five cities, and demanded Armenia to return three more occupied districts to Azerbaijan.
President Aliyev has repeatedly said that the conflict in the Karabakh region is over and that it is time to think about peace, not war. He noted that the post-war activities of the Minsk Group depend largely on the official positions and plans of the co-chairing states, namely Russia, France and the United States.
“Is there a room for a group which was supposed to help resolve the conflict after the conflict is resolved? I don’t know. At the same time, I can’t say that we don’t need the Minsk Group any longer. No. Why should I say that?” the Azerbaijani president said. “Therefore, I diplomatically asked them to show creativity. They have been so creative during all these 29 years. Let them be a little more creative. However, I think that, if we talk seriously, there could be some areas where they can play role in the post-conflict situation.”
President Aliyev also called on the co-chairs of the Minsk Group to refrain from doing anything that can damage the “fragile peace”, such as giving unrealistic promises to Armenia, and called for resolving the situation in a “neutral and impartial” way.
In the meantime, the Minsk Group co-chairs issued Tuesday a statement to express their readiness for resuming working visits to the region and call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to provide unimpeded access and maximum flexibility of movement in the Karabakh region.