Author: Namig HASANOV
At the beginning of the year, American diplomat Earle Litzenberger was approved as the US ambassador to Azerbaijan. Following the signing of respective presidential decree by Donald Trump, Litzenberger will take up his duties in Baku. Thus, the office of the US ambassador at the Azadlig Avenue in Baku, which has been vacant since March 2018, will be busy again.
Who is the new ambassador?
Earle Litzenberger is a graduate of the US Army War College. Immediately after graduation in 2006, he was sent as deputy ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. Diplomatic service in this Asian country turned out to be quite difficult due to the protests against the presence of a US air base in the country. However, Litzenberger, along with other diplomats, managed to convince the country's authorities not to close the Manas military air base and even to extend the lease term by changing its name to the Transit Centre.
In general, the new US ambassador to Azerbaijan has quite an impressive service record: after Kyrgyzstan, Litzenberger worked at the US embassies in Kazakhstan, Serbia, Bulgaria and Algeria. Remarkably, Litzenberger worked through both the diplomatic and military organisations. In 2013-2014, he was the NATO Deputy Senior Civilian Representative in Kabul, Afghanistan, followed by more than a three-years' service as Deputy Chief of Mission to the US Mission to NATO. It is not surprising that his current high position at the US Department of State is the Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) with the rank of Minister Counselor. The position allows him to have wide connections in the military-political and military-industrial spheres of the United States. Litzenberger is known as a specialist in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He speaks several languages, including Russian.
Approval is necessary
The whole process of approval of the new American ambassador to Azerbaijan was not smooth at all. Once again, opposition in the Armenian lobby tried to influence the US legislative bodies. Armenian diaspora has tried its best to prevent the approval of Litzenberger. In 2010, Armenians could prevent the appointment of Matthew Bryza as American ambassador to Azerbaijan. This time Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was the spearhead of Armenian lobby. At the preliminary Senate hearings, Menendez 'terrorized' Litzenberger with uncomfortable questions and demanded guarantees that military technical assistance would not be provided to Azerbaijan.
It has been known that American Armenians and their patrons are concerned about the connections of Litzenberger in the military-industrial circles. After a recent visit by the US National Security Advisor John Bolton to the Caucasus, the issue of freezing the 907th Amendment to the Freedom Protection Act, which hampers US military-technical cooperation with Azerbaijan, has re-surfaced. In Baku and Yerevan, Bolton openly offered to buy American weapons on a parity basis. It is clear that if the initiatives of the Trump administration are implemented, only Azerbaijan will benefit from this, for Armenia does not have the capacity to purchase expensive and high-precision American weapons.
On the other hand, the US has not had an ambassador in Azerbaijan since March 2018, when the previous ambassador, Robert Cekuta, left his post.
Washington still remembers the confusion with the appointment of Matthew Bryza, which caused damage to the image of the US State Department. Therefore, the department has tried to solve the issue of approval of the new ambassador in a timely manner. On the last day of the 115th session of the US Congress, the Senate decided to approve the appointment of Litzenberger as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan and the United States in the context of time
Azerbaijan and the United States has begun cooperating immediately after the restoration of our independence. Currently both parties pursue a multi-vector approach in developing their relations. The most important area of cooperation between the two states is the energy sector. Thanks to its oil companies, the US has made a great contribution to the development of the modern oil and gas industry in Azerbaijan. In fact, the share of American investments in the first for the independent Azerbaijan oil agreement, the Contract of the Century, was 47%.
The United States participated in large-scale transnational projects implemented by Azerbaijan in the Caspian region and in the South Caucasus, which has contributed to boosting the country's economic power. The main export pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline ensured free access of Azerbaijani hydrocarbons to the world market. The US is also involved in the East-West transport and communication corridor, as well as helping Azerbaijan to implement structural reforms in the economic sphere.
In turn, Azerbaijan supported the US when the country became the target of attacks of Islamic radicals, and joined the global war against terrorism. Baku opened its airspace to transport coalition troops to Afghanistan, assisted peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, sent its military contingent to assist international armed forces in Afghanistan and joined the international coalition in Iraq. Azerbaijan actively cooperates with the US and through NATO within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program.
New realities and perspectives
Over the past year and a half, US interest in Azerbaijan has increased significantly. Perhaps this is because the US is losing its former positions in the Greater Middle East. Having created a modern global power, America is now forced to defend its interests in different parts of the globe. Moreover, the system of relations built by the US varies depending on the region. However, the loss of positions in one or two important countries leads to the collapse of the entire system, which was evident in Syria, where Washington has nothing to put against to the combined efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The desire to thwart the emerging rapprochement of major regional players forces the US to look at the South Caucasus.
But the long-standing Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has suddenly become a factor impeding the fruition of American interests in the region. If previously the US has been happy with the status quo, today however, given the realities of the global geopolitical game, it needs a lasting peace as a condition for strengthening the US influence. The increased economic and geo-strategic importance of Azerbaijan does not allow Washington to ignore the fair demands of Baku regarding the occupied territories. Despite the activity of the Armenian lobby in America, the Trump administration intends to provide all possible assistance to the speedy resolution of the Karabakh conflict. During his visit to the region, John Bolton openly hinted Yerevan that it would have to reconcile with the de-occupation of Azerbaijani territories. Instead, Armenia is offered assistance in the implementation of democratic reforms, in other words – easing Russian domination. As co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States has the full right to influence the outcome of the peaceful dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, simultaneously strengthening its position in both countries. At the same time, Washington probes the ground for the further use of Armenia and Azerbaijan against Russia and Iran. The appointment of Litzenberger, a specialist in military-technical cooperation to Azerbaijan as ambassador to Azerbaijan, and Lynn Tracy, a specialist in Russia to Armenia, fully corresponds to this military-political strategy.
Clearly, Azerbaijan cannot spoil relations with its closest neighbours and partners in the region. Washington understands this very well. President Aliyev’s well-reasoned foreign policy towards world powers and common sense indicate that in the near future Azerbaijan will limit itself to strengthening economic and innovative cooperation with the US, as well as to maximising the use of new opportunities for military-technical cooperation.