"The time has come for Azerbaijan to seek to overturn 907 completely"

"The time has come for Azerbaijan to seek to overturn 907 completely"

Many American experts predict a breakthrough in US-Azerbaijani relations after the meeting of President Ilham Aliyev and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Turkey, but are pessimistic about the prospects for intensifying US efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There are a number of constraints to this. The first factor is Russia, which will not allow American hegemony in the South Caucasus region, which is in the sphere of its priority interests. The second factor is Armenian, or, to put it more accurately, the Armenian lobby in the United States.

How can the relations between Baku and Washington change after a recent meeting in Istanbul? How much does the Armenian lobby influence the US Congress today? Why did Washington not cancel Annex 907 to the "Act in Support of Freedom"? How much is the US interested in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of the norms of international law? The American politician, famous Republican, former US congressman, president of Flanagan Consulting LLC Michael Patrick Flanagan answered these and many other questions to Azeri.Today.

- Mr. Flanagan, first of all, I want to thank you for having agreed to give an interview to our website. As you know, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in Istanbul. How can the US-Azerbaijan relations change after this meeting?

- I am heartened that in his short tenure in office, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was able to prioritize a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev. I believe that this demonstrates the importance that the United States places on good relations with all of the counties in the Caucasus Region, particularly Azerbaijan. The United States enjoys a both a trade relations agreement and a bi-lateral investment treaty with Azerbaijan. These are great beginnings for future agreements and treaties between our two countries. Unlike most Western nations, the United Sates almost always begins to normalize relations with a trade treaty as opposed to a political or military treaty. The US and Azerbaijan have started on the path to close friendship and I think that further steps will be taken during the Trump Administration. The Aliyev/Tillerson meeting in Turkey is a very good sign for the future.

- Some congressmen openly take a pro-Armenian stance, they come forward with anti-Azerbaijani bills. What makes them speak against Azerbaijan? Certainly, it cannot be done without the influence of the Armenian lobby, is it?

It is almost a cliché but it is still true that the United States is a nation of immigrants. These immigrants bring with them the roots of their country of origin. This living memory of the “old country” is passed-down to the children of the immigrants and to the grandchildren. Often, only the worst memories are kept alive. In my own Irish experience, my ancestors had very poor attitudes about the United Kingdom stemming from hundreds of years of transgressions – only the very bad was remembered. These transgressions had roots in politics, religion and territorial disputes (much like the Armenian/Azerbaijani difficulties). In time, these “memories” are left behind and new attitudes take their place. As the Irish immigrants’ progeny became less “Irish” and more “American” through the generations, their attitudes changed as well. This will be the future of the Armenians in the United States as it is with all immigrant groups. Azerbaijan can also help its position in the United States by actively trying to change these attitudes of Americans and their government and communicating its good will to Congress and to Americans directly. Many Nations do this and they enjoy better benefits because of it. One cannot hope to have Americans know about Azerbaijan unless you tell them. An active lobbying and public relations effort will help enormously.

- Please, ask honestly. Did you encounter the pressure of the Armenian lobby in the US when you worked in the Congress?

- Certainly, as all ethnic groups do. I encourage Azerbaijan to do the same. There is only good that will come from such interaction and often the problems of the “old countries” are solved by children of immigrants from these countries all of whom became Americans together. These Americans are especially able to point to solutions of these difficulties. The offspring of Armenian and Azerbaijan immigrants will be Americans first and will want to solve the problems afflicting the homes of their ancestors. They will want to do this together and for the benefit of both the country of their grandparents and for the benefit of their own country, the United States. This is one of the great strengths of American influence in the world. Many of the world disputes have been solved by Americans whose ancestors originally came from regions of conflict. Additionally and more immediately, if Azerbaijan will engage the United States meaningfully as I outlined in the previous question, I am sure that the Armenians will be persuaded to do the same and, with that, I am hopeful for an eventual outcome of these difficulties. Engagement is the only possible successful path and I hope that Azerbaijan will aggressively participate in public debate in the United States in regard to its issues.

- Article 907 to the "Freedom Support Act" was adopted under the pressure of the Armenian lobby in 1992 (Freedom Support Act was adopted for economic support of the former Soviet republics). Article 907 prohibits the provision of assistance to Azerbaijan by the US government. Some countries called on the US to abandon the amendment. In her letter to the head of the House of Representatives in September 1998, Madeleine Albright wrote: "Article 907 harms the national interests of the US, undermining their neutrality in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, their ability to support economic and broader legal reforms in Azerbaijan, their efforts in developing the East-West energy transport corridor". Do you agree with Madeleine Albright?

- While the language of 907 is certainly irksome to Azerbaijan, the provisions of that Article were waived by both Presidents Bush and Obama. I am sure that the meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson was to hope that the Trump Administration will do the same. I am confident that with proper engagement, Azerbaijan will be able to convince the Trump administration to continue the waiver. Further, perhaps the time has come for Azerbaijan to lobby Congress directly and seek to overturn 907 completely and to start better relations with the Armenian community here. Americans love peace makers and such an effort, if genuine, will be rewarded with success.

- The last question. How do you see the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? How much are the US and Russia interested in resolving the conflict on the basis of norms of international law?

- Political and military engagement to date has offered little concerning a way forward. The conflict is ongoing and is a deadly distraction to both the futures of Armenia and of Azerbaijan. As for the United States, the Trump Administration tends to prioritize economic agreements and trade issues over political and military alliances. If Azerbaijan will similarly engage as described previously and will successfully expand its trade and economic ties to the United States, the playing field in the US can be somewhat leveled. Economic engagement is a great advantage Azerbaijan has and it should be used aggressively to gain influence. A similar approach with Russia is likely to be successful as well. My guess is that the conflict will be resolved by Armenia and Azerbaijan and not by anyone outside. Russia and the US both have an interest in a successful resolution to the conflict and I am sure that the relations by and among these four countries will be colored by progress towards a solution.

Seymur Mammadov
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