(Part One and Two of Background Interview on Azerbaijan)
Senior DoD Official: I want to just make sure as I understand it up front there’s no quoting my name as the DoD official or Senior DoD official something along those lines.
Press: Unless you want to go on the record for something?
Senior DoD Official: Yeah, I think what I’d like to do I can give you give you the logistics of the trip, why we’re going, what we hope to do while we’re there. And then I think the most specific questions we’ll have a little time on the plane tomorrow and they didn’t carve out time for backgrounder on the plane but anything more specific I’m going to have to refer it up a little bit and then tomorrow maybe we can clarify your questions.
Press: Can I ask your title just so that I can kind of?
Senior DoD Official: Yeah I’m the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for EurAsia.
Press: Thank you.
Senior DoD Official: You’re welcome.
Okay first let me just put the trip in context and put U.S. interest in general in Azerbaijan in context. I mean is there a general motive to support the sovereignty territorial integrity in development - political, economic and military - development of Azerbaijan as we do all the countries in the region, so I mean that’s sort of our going in premise.
You’ll be traveling to Azerbaijan tomorrow to meet with the President recently elected Ilahm Aliyev and also to meet with the Minister of Defense Safai Abiyub.
Press: Can you spell the Defense Minister’s name?
Senior DoD Official: First name - Safai. Last name - Abiyub.
Press: Thank you.
Senior DoD Official: In the first instance we will thank both the President and Minister of Defense for their cooperation on the war in terrorism. Azerbaijan was one of the thorough supporters of the U.S. war on terrorism shortly after September 11th 2001. They expressed the means to provide whatever they could materially or morally to help us and they help provide over flight rights, which have been particularly useful and we very much appreciate their (inaudible) and their position on this.
(Inaudible). For us to get through Europe enter Central Asia, Afghanistan area we basically have a corridor (inaudible) Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and into the region so the over flight rights they’ve extended to us have been very instrumental in allowing us to support operations in Central Asia.
They’ve also help materially they have a part of platoon size element in ISAF in Afghanistan and about company size element in Iraq. So first and foremost we’ll be thanking the President and the Minister of Defense for their solace support in the war on terrorism. Secondly we’ll be discussing our security relationship with them, security assistance priorities and we provide somewhere in the ballpark of about $3 million dollars a year in security assistance to Azerbaijan use for a variety of things.
A couple of our priorities are training and equipping peacekeeping forces, working to increase inter-operability between Azerbaijan forces and western style NATO forces and encouraging defense reform efforts. And we keep in mind most of these countries are still suffering from the legacy of the Soviet military model. In many cases they’ve just really begun to transition away from that and we often deal with any number of way of support to try to help them do that.
Coming as it does on the heels our visit here to NATO, to Brussels will underscore the fact that as NATO expands again in the spring at (inaudible) summit, it brings the border of NATO, roughly the eastern border that much closer to the caucuses into central Asia and we encourage Azerbaijan which is a member of the Partnership for Peace Plan, NATO’s Partnership for Peace Plan to take full advantage of the opportunities adherent in that program and to encourage them to be more closely integrated in Euro-institutions, advanced, economic and otherwise.
One of the other goals of our security assistance has been to help Azerbaijan with maritime security on the Caspian Sea. There’s a construct (inaudible) region larger the southern tier of the former Soviet Union is an arc of instability and I think that term was in vogue even during the Soviet times although then referred to a little bit further south include the breakup of the Soviet Union. The arc is extended a little bit further north.
You know one of our goals is to help countries, work with countries to bring ungoverned areas under control and that’s sort of the issue we deal with globally. In the case of Azerbaijan bordering on the Caspian Sea you have in many instances a body of water that’s largely outside of any control. So that’s also a concern to us just like an ungoverned territory would be, so we begin working with Azerbaijan to help them develop maritime security forces, to better control traffic of any number of proliferation of weapons, weapons of mass destruction, narcotics, you all know come from Afghanistan in transit through central Asia across the Caspian into Russia and Europe. And also the movement of people who you know we’d like to help them, work with them to try and get a better control of what’s going on the Caspian.
Azerbaijan’s most significant security problem is the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh largely frozen since the early 90’s, I think since about 93, 94 now. And the Nagorno-Karabakh is a largely ethnically Armenian populated area over which Armenian Azerbaijan (inaudible) in the early 90’s. The conflict now is frozen and the status quo is very unacceptable to the Azeris. Through our co-chairmanship on the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] (inaudible) group and we co-chair that group with Russia and France. There’s 3 co-chairs. We’ve tried to promote a peaceful negotiated settlement to that conflict and that remains our position that we believe the only way to resolve that conflict is through peaceful negotiated settlement.
I guess in closing I would just say in recognition of the support Azerbaijan has given us in the war on terrorism, the President in 2002 waved the requirements of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which apply sanctions to Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 2003 the sanctions were also waived and this has allowed us to work with Azerbaijan as I said to help support some of their security priorities that are also priorities to us.
So that’s generally what I thought I might say. I guess I could take a few questions but again bear with me. If it gets into too much of level of specificity I’ll have to revert upstairs and maybe we can follow-up with some of the (inaudible).
Press: The global footprint question, the Secretary (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: Quite possibly, I mean I think they’ll probably raise it if we don’t and the issue there I think as you know, the Secretary said already that decisions on the global footprint haven’t been taken, concrete decisions. So there’s still some review, planning and discussion and they may very well come up but I mean that’s the level that we’d be prepared to address it that it’s still a work in progress.
Press: In long term (inaudible) you say Azerbaijan would be a likely place for access and foreign operate (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: I can’t get into that right now. I mean I can –
Press: Is there anything you relay to recent election there and question (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: I’ll have to refer that to State (Inaudible).
Press: So no mention of the OSCE report on what they call the serious violations, the riots that followed, there was at least one death….?
Senior DoD Official: I can’t address that. My own sense is we won’t raise it but you could, I mean I can’t (inaudible).
Press: How important is the oil and pipeline that’s being built from there through Turkey to the policy that’s going to be enunciated tomorrow? And have the companies, the American companies involved in that expressed any concern that you know of to the U.S. government with regard to the election or the (inaudible) situation?
Senior DoD Official: I’m not aware of any concerns that were addressed through private companies to the U.S. but again that’s more of a diplomatic issue. I mean we’re very concerned as the rest of the U.S. government is about the viability of the country and their development economically and from our standpoint the security of their energy and construction, the pipelines. It’s something that we look forward to cooperating with them, helping them develop the capabilities they need to secure their own infrastructure. So that is one aspect of our security cooperation at the moment. I would suggest that that’s the primary aspect but we’ve talked to them about that and try and help them think through how they might best secure their assets.
Press: Did Rumsfeld (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: He has (inaudible).
Press: (Inaudible) Moscow (Inaudible) .
Press: The Russians have (inaudible) sensitivities about defense chief going there or is pretty much now commonplace (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: I hadn’t heard any comments one way or the other from the Russians. I mean they naturally maintain great interest there, they’re neighbors, they have large trade between the two. They have also I guess some cooperation in the securities there. We haven’t heard them. They certainly haven’t direct or raised any concerns with us about going to Azerbaijan.
Press: Sir you said sanctions were raised in 2002 and 2003. Did they re-impose (inaudible) or was 2002 (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: (Inaudible).
Press: (Inaudible) is what created the sanctions in the first place?
(PART ONE ENDED)
BEGINNING OF PART TWO
Senior DoD Official: In this Section 90703 of the Freedom Support Act, it basically restricted security assistance to Azerbaijan while they were at war with Armenia and while they were (inaudible) Armenia territory.
Now the U.S. took a policy even-handedness and said, by not cooperating with Azerbaijan while cooperating with Armenia would be defacto supporting Armenia in the conflict. So our position throughout that entire period of sanctions was not to provide security assistance to either country. So the sanctions were waved in 2002 that allowed us a) to begin joint cooperation with Azerbaijan but also with Armenia, as I said, our position is peaceful, a solution is required and we’ve tried to work in both countries, on the Karabakh issue and on the security assistance in general.
Senior DoD Official: I mean (inaudible) is certainly legally part of Azerbaijan but on the ground it’s controlled by the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian forces and they have their own sort of local government. So again on paper part of Azerbaijan but on the ground it’s really a region separate from Azerbaijan right now. And there’s territories west of Nagorno-Karabakh between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, which are occupied by Armenian forces as a result of the stalemate or the seize fire that ended the war.
So I would characterize it now as closing and why I say to the detriment of Azerbaijan, even if you left Nagorno-Karabakh aside there’s other territories of Azerbaijan that are currently occupied and it’s always some sort of settlement you probably won’t see a change that’s why we say it’s closing. It’s largely been – (inaudible) along the line of control from time to time but it’s largely been the same since 94 maybe 93 – I can check the date on it.
Senior DoD Official: He’s still hospitalized I’m not sure exactly where he is at right now. At different times I know he’s in Turkey and in the United States and he’s moved back and forth. We have received no notification that he died and if he did I know there’d be a state funeral.
Press: You don’t have (Inaudible) Azerbaijan?
Senior DoD Official: No.
Press: (Inaudible) any purpose?
Senior DoD Official: I can’t answer that not because I’m not ready to but I’m not certain of that. I’ll get back to you or I’ll go up (inaudible). I think we might sometimes refuel funds there in some sort of (inaudible) operation but even that I’m not certain, I’m fairly certain of that but I don’t know the details. But that would be the extent of anything we’re doing right now and certainly when we do that in (inaudible) and most of the countries in the region.
Press: Real early in the Afghanistan war could we use Azerbaijan for any reason?
Senior DoD Official: No.
Press: (Inaudible) that they also would (inaudible) Afghanistan as well?
Senior DoD Official: Well keep in mind we have to support the bases we’re using in Uzbekistan and Kirgistan so generally the traffic was into those bases (inaudible).
Press: What the reason for the (inaudible) if there’s any (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official l: Yeah I mean I think that’s a fair way to characterize it I mean I hate to see that in the paper but I mean we’re in the region already, we’re half way out there so we look at countries that have been particularly helpful and that we want to firm up our relationship and review where we are in Azerbaijan came out as one of the countries that we (inaudible).
Press: How would feel if (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: Very professional at this point. The troops – Azerbaijan has a peacekeeping battalion that we’ve worked with over the years, we’re very highly confident, they’ve served with the Turks in Afghanistan and in western Iraq and by all accounts they’ve done a very professional job.
Press: Are they currently (inaudible)?
Senior DoD Official: (Inaudible).
Press: You mentioned before (inaudible) numbers that they have in Afghanistan the number they have Iraq?
Senior DoD Official: Yeah I think I (inaudible) as a platoon in Afghanistan and a company plus in Iraq, I don’t know what the number is exactly but over 125 say in Iraq and probably 30 in Afghanistan.
Senior DoD Official: There would be less force but I’m not exactly sure what part of Iraq.
Press: 125 in Iraq and about 30 (inaudible) you know in Afghanistan.
Senior DoD Official: Yeah.
Press: (Inaudible) Defense Minister, what’s he like? Has he been there a long time?
Senior DoD Official l: He has been there a long time and like I said he’s largely concerned, this means very concerned in Nagorno-Karabakh and we know that’s his top priority. At the same time I think he’s reform minded, he’s done a credible job trying to reform the Azeri military structure and he’s here in Brussels (inaudible) there’s a partner in the partnership for peace. You would think he’s a professional soldier who has a vision for the Azeri (inaudible), may be not yet attained but he’s working on it.
Press: How big is their military?
Senior DoD Official: I will have to check. I got the numbers somewhere (inaudible).
Press: Thanks for your time.
Senior DoD Official: Thank you.