When U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted that he will be visiting Azerbaijan on October 20 it could not have come sooner. This secular Muslim country of 9 million is one of America’s most reliable yet underappreciated allies on the world stage. Mr. Bolton should use his visit to this geopolitically significant country sandwiched between a dangerous Russia and adventurous Iran to reiterate Washington’s unwavering, strong and unabashed support for America’s ally of over 26 years.
In 1992, as I stood next to Robert Finn (America’s top diplomat in Azerbaijan) to witness the opening of our embassy in Baku (on the 2nd floor of the Old Intourist Hotel) I could never have imagined that 26 years later Azerbaijan would prove to be one of America’s strongest and reliable partners.
When Mr. Bolton sits down with President Ilham Aliyev later this month he will not only meet an American ally who has succeeded in realizing his vision to make Azerbaijan stable, independent, prosperous, religiously tolerant and modern but also one that shares many of America’s foreign policy goals and cultural values.
Immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on our homeland by Muslim fanatics, former President Heydar Aliyev, offered Azerbaijan’s full and unconditional support to fight this global menace. Today Washington cannot ask for anyone more reliable than President Ilham Aliyev as it continues to address the challenge of international terrorism. For example, Azerbaijan’s special-forces fight along-side their American counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan. No doubt Mr. Bolton will thank Azerbaijan for its unwavering support.
Despite direct and indirect pressure from Russia and Iran (in 2000, Tehran used force to stop Azerbaijan from drilling one of the world’s largest offshore oil structures Alov), Azerbaijan shares America’s goal of uninterrupted exploration, development and transportation of Caspian Sea energy resources to customers around the world. Under Mr. Aliyev, Azerbaijan has assumed its role as the region’s most reliable export corridor and as such, has become the linchpin of diversifying oil and gas exports away from Russia. Mr. Bolton should applaud Azerbaijan’s contributions to enhancing Western energy security.
Mr. Bolton, a Baltimore native, may not know but Azerbaijan’s philanthropy has touched the lives of those facing the scourge of hunger in his home state. Each year the Maryland Food Bank receives a donation from the ambassador of Azerbaijan in honor of the late President Heydar Aliyev. In fact, President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, (some call her the First Lady of Charity) share the American ethos of generosity. Mrs. Aliyeva’s charitable giving to such organizations in the United States like Save A Child’s Heart, the Urban Alliance and Longview School for the Disabled has touched the lives of those less fortunate in our country. In the interest of this shared value, Mr. Bolton should encourage these generous acts of kindness to expand between our two countries.
When President Trump’s thoughtful National Security adviser takes a tour of what many visitors call “Paris by the Caspian,” he will notice two synagogues and a number of beautiful churches in the center of Baku. The reason is both simple yet profound: Religious tolerance is woven into the national fabric of this Shia Muslim country.
For example, Azerbaijan is home to the one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities and its leaders proudly proclaim that if any Jew anywhere in the world feels unsafe they should move to Azerbaijan. Not surprisingly and despite intense pressure from the Supreme Leader of Iran, Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with Israel. This visit may be a good opportunity for Mr. Bolton to send a clear message to the dictators in Tehran that America supports Mr. Aliyev and his country’s tolerance of religious minorities.
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Aliyev share the same fundamental philosophy that free market economies, if well managed, can produce unprecedented wealth. By overseeing the smooth transition of Azerbaijan’s economy from centrally planned to free market Mr. Aliyev has given almost every citizen of his country the human right to live in dignity. On his visit to Azerbaijan Mr. Bolton will see that the human right of every Azeri to have a good paying job, steady and stable source of income, roof over their heads and food on the table is provided. America’s astute national security advisor knows that Azerbaijan may not be a liberal democracy but he will appreciate and understand that its leadership has provided good governance.
And finally, Mr. Bolton should use his visit with President Aliyev to recommit the United States to a speedy and fair resolution of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabagh. By working with Azerbaijan’s responsible president and Armenia’s new leadership Mr. Bolton can reassert American leadership on the global stage by solving one of the most intractable conflicts of the 20th century.
When Mr. Bolton departs Azerbaijan he should leave behind an invitation from President Trump to President Aliyev to visit the White House. A U.S.-Azerbaijan summit is in America’s national security interest and will demonstrate Washington’s gratitude to one of America’s most reliable allies in an otherwise turbulent world.
• S. Rob Sobhani is CEO of Caspian Group Holdings.