Washington, 31 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Azerbaijani President Heidar
Aliyev spent most of his first full day in Washington yesterday
lobbying the U.S. Congress for the repeal of a ban on U.S. economic
assistance to his government.
He is making his first official visit to Washington this week, and
he wasted no time in going to the source of U.S. aid to the emerging
nations of the former Soviet Union -- the U.S. Congress.
When the Congress approved a longterm economic assistance program
for the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it added a
provision to the law prohibiting direct U.S. aid to Azerbaijan until
it lifts its economic blockade of Armenia. The law allows the U.S.
Government to provide only humanitarian relief.
Armenia, in contrast, received more than $80 million in U.S. aid last
year and is due to receive the same amount in the next financial year.
During a speech Wednesday at Georgetown University in Washington,
Aliyev called the ban on aid to Azerbaijan unjust and a hindrance to
Azerbaijan's political and economic reform.
After the speech, he went to Congress to make his case with some of
the most influential members of the House of Representatives and the
Senate. His list of visits included House International Relations
Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), House Speaker Newt
Gingrich (R-Georgia), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina).
There was no immediate report on the substance of his talks with the
members of Congress. There is, however, bipartisan support in
Washington for Azerbaijan's position. In a speech last week, Deputy
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott called for improved U.S. ties with
Azerbaijan and said the congressional ban should be lifted. President
Bill Clinton's Administration has asked Congress to lift the ban.
Aliyev will see Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on
Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), the senior Democrat on the
House International Relations Committee, agrees it is time to
reconsider the ban on aid. Congressman Peter King (R-New York) has
introduced legislation that would repeal the law. In the Senate,
Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), the chairman of the Foreign
Relations subcommittee responsible for the Caucasus, has taken the
lead in calling for what he terms a more balanced U.S. policy in the
American oil companies that want to participate in the development
of Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea oil have also become more vocal in their
support for Azerbaijan in recent weeks. When he leaves Washington,
Aliyev will meet with oil company executives in Houston in the
oil-producing state of Texas.
Azerbaijan and its supporters, however, must contend with the
powerful Armenian American political lobby in Washington, which has
so far helped persuade Congress to keep the ban in place.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are in conflict over the predominantly ethnic
Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan. In his
speech, Aliyev traced the source of the dispute to what he called
Since 1988, ethnic Armenians have taken control of the disputed
territory, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian
forces have occupied seven Azerbaijani provinces. A ceasefire is in
place and international mediators are trying to work out a final
Aliyev says Azerbaijan wants peace. He says the unsettled conflict
is the biggest obstacle to development in the south Caucasus. The
president says his country is willing to grant what he calls the
highest degree of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh. But he also flatly
stated that the territory can never be independent. Aliyev says
Azerbaijan cannot agree to the creation of what he called a second
Armenian republic within his country.
He also said all occupied territory must be returned to Azerbaijan,
and Aliyev disputed the contention that Azerbaijan is blockading
Armenia. He said most of the rail line that connects Armenia with the
rest of the Caucasus is under Armenian control.
Azerbaijan, said Aliyev, is in the process of building a stable
democratic state based upon the rule of law. He asserted that
Azerbaijan will always be a secular, multi-national state where human
rights are guaranteed.