- - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why would a relatively stable country at the intersection of the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with a strong economy and burgeoning energy supply, matter to the United States? It’s a great question with a relatively easy answer. In 1991, Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union and has since proven to be a strong strategic partner to the United States as an energy producer, a staunch opponent of Russia and Iran, and a reliable international ally.

A sensible energy policy is multi-pronged, and Azerbaijan is part of that equation, especially in relation to the discussion on neutralizing Russia. Early on, Azerbaijan opened its rich oil and gas resources to foreign investment from companies from Europe and the United States. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline originating in Azerbaijan, currently exports roughly 1 million barrels of oil per day. The proposed Trans-Caspian Gas pipeline, however, is currently in a holding pattern because of opposition from Iran and Russia. Both pipelines will ultimately be the region’s great equalizer. This energy supply will help Europe finally relinquish its reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Pipeline infrastructure is critically important for the energy security of the United States and Europe, and is the most efficient method of transporting fossil fuels. The United States should play a positive role in efforts to support the construction of this project so that Azerbaijan will be able to get more of its product to European consumers in search of relief from Russian energy supplies. Too often Russia has used its dominate position in the energy markets as a weapon to bully its neighbors. It has raised gas prices indiscriminately in Eastern European nations and has even blocked shipments in the dead of winter.

Not only has Azerbaijan played an important role in the global energy market, but they have also been a strategic partner in matters of global security. As we have seen in recent months, terrorist regimes have reared their ugly head, looking to destabilize the region or even launch attacks against American interests. Azerbaijan is strategically located in the epicenter of where most of the hostile and politically-unstable countries are located, and where acts of terrorism are common. And yet, this majority Shiite Muslim nation counts Israel among one of its closest allies. Azerbaijan provides up to 40 percent of Israel’s oil imports, and in return, acquires advanced military equipment, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems, as well as drones from Israel.

Bordering both Russia and Iran and a critical gateway to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan has also been a strategic transit location for U.S. military troops, equipment and supplies. The country provides a secure transit route for 40 percent of the NATO International Security Forces operating in Afghanistan. United States and Azeri military continue to work side-by-side in training Afghani police, border guards, and civilian and military doctors. Additionally, cooperation between the two countries extends into efforts to counter international terror, nuclear proliferation and narcotics trafficking.



Now, more than ever, we must strengthen our current relationships with allies new and old. Azerbaijan has continually shown their willingness to cooperate with our government to foster a healthier, more stable Middle East and Eurasia. It is imperative for the future of our national security that we continue down a path of collaboration and show that we will be a strong and strategic partner to Azerbaijan for years to come.

• Rep. Randy Weber is a Republican who represents the 14th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representayives and serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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