- - Tuesday, December 10, 2013

America’s relationship with Azerbaijan is critical to preserving the national interests of both countries. Built on the strong pillars of security and energy, it is a partnership that will help the country of Azerbaijan realize its potential as an international ally. Additionally, since Azerbaijan is planted between Russia, Iran and Turkey—at the crossroads of civilizations—their alliance presents the United States and allies with a special opportunity to perpetuate a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.

As a secular, Muslim-majority country, Azerbaijan is on the frontlines in the fight for freedom and democracy against radicalized Islam and terrorism. The spread of Islamic terrorism is a threat to nations in the Middle East and to the United States. Azerbaijan has proved to be a great partner in fighting terrorism, especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001. In the wake of the attacks, Azerbaijan supported the U.S. and allies by immediately granting flight clearance and logistical assistance to U.S. Armed Forces. Additionally, Azerbaijan became instrumental to U.S. military operations by allowing the free movement of troops and supplies into Afghanistan when the primary supply network through Pakistan became politically difficult to maintain.

Soon after gaining its independence, Azerbaijan’s leadership decided to move the country toward an independent path unconstrained by neighboring influences. Since then, the country has had an uneasy relationship with Iran. Today, their steadfastness serves as an important symbol of what a secular, prosperous, Shia-majority society can look like for the Iranian people.

Azerbaijan has also developed deep diplomatic, economic, and security ties with our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. These nations maintain diplomatic support for the each other, including Azeri support of the international sanctions against Iran. In recent years, Israel has become one of Azerbaijan’s top five trading partners and, last year, Azerbaijan signed a $1.6 billion defense agreement with Israel, which includes air defense systems and drones.

While Azerbaijan continues to play a crucial role in U.S. national and international security, equally as important is the energy stability and diversification that Azerbaijan brings to the world market. Azerbaijan has become an international energy leader due to the large complexes of oil and natural gas found off its coast in the Caspian Sea.

The discovery of the immense Azeri–Chirag–Guneshli (ACG) complex opened Azerbaijan’s energy sector to foreign partnerships and investments. In 2010, the ACG oil field was producing approximately 850,000 barrels per day, which were destined for U.S. allies like Turkey and other countries in Europe. It is estimated that through partnerships and joint ventures over $20 billion will be invested in the ACG complex.

In addition to its oil reserves, which are currently ranked the 3rd largest in the world, Azerbaijan has considerable natural gas reserves. The Shah-Deniz field, also located in the Caspian Sea, contains approximately 40 trillion cubic feet of gas condensate. In the first and second stages of development approximately $30 billion in production and transportation investment will flow into the country. Shah-Deniz is another step in a long journey to develop the vast resources within Azerbaijan.

Through an expanding network of pipelines and off-shore facilities, European and Turkish access to Azerbaijan’s natural resources offer hope of energy independence from their current reliance on Russia. Diversification of energy resources, that was once thought impossible, is now allowing these U.S. partners the ability to pursue their goals and ideals through an open and competitive energy market rather than a single supplier.

The people of Azerbaijan realize that energy resources can bring significant foreign investment that can result in increased spending on domestic infrastructure, political stability, and the ability to meet future economic growth requirements.

As our two nations look toward the future together, we must recognize that while Azerbaijan is a powerful ally it is still a young democracy with progress to make to sustain a truly functioning democracy. As an ally, we must work with them and support their democratic development by providing Azerbaijan with assistance. It is my hope that the Obama Administration and my colleagues in Congress will join me in working for a permanent change in policy, so that the U.S. can support Azerbaijan like we support so many allies around the world.

Providing support for Azerbaijan will not only help move the country to its full potential, it will also serve our national interests of fostering democracy and investing in our national security. As a member of the Azerbaijan-American Alliance, I am committed to assisting the people of Azerbaijan realize their potential as an international ally, especially as it relates to security, energy, and democracy.