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U.S. Calls On Azerbaijan To Improve Rights Record

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev
U.S. President Barack Obama (right) with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev
BAKU -- A U.S. diplomat says President Barack Obama told Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during their meeting at the United Nations that Baku needs to improve its record on democratic development and human rights, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Adam Sterling, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan, told RFE/RL on September 29 that cases of imprisoned journalists -- including jailed bloggers Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli -- are of particular concern to Obama. Sterling said it is "disappointing" that the two, along with journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, remain in jail.

"If President Obama raises this issue personally, it carries more weight, and I think it is more convincing evidence that cases such as these interfere with the ability of our two governments to enjoy the closest possible partnership," Sterling told RFE/RL. "This is an issue that stands in the way of other things that we are trying to do."

Sterling said Obama also stressed to Aliyev the importance of civil society during their September 23 meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

"I'm sure it wasn't fully welcomed on the Azerbaijani side but it was a frank and open discussion of issues that matter to United States officials at the highest level," Sterling said. "I don't have a sense that this message was received with anything less than respect."

The Obama-Aliyev meeting was not mentioned on official Azerbaijani government websites.

Sterling said he hopes the November parliamentary elections will reflect "significant progress."

"We are committed to working with the Azerbaijani authorities to create the conditions for free and fair elections," he told RFE/RL.

"I have met with the chairman of the Central Election Commission, the presidency, and the foreign ministry to offer the assistance of the U.S. government in helping to remedy any problems that we see. We have stressed our concerns about freedom of assembly and the importance of freedom of assembly during the [election] campaign."

The post of U.S. ambassador to Baku has been vacant for more than a year.

Armenian-American lobbying groups say Matthew Bryza, who has been nominated for the post, is biased against Armenia.

Confirmation of Bryza's appointment is currently on hold due to objections from Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat, California).