Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin 09BAKU395 2009-05-15 04:17 2011-08-24 01:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Baku
VZCZCXRO5002 PP RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHSK RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHKB #0395/01 1350417 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 150417Z MAY 09 FM AMEMBASSY BAKU TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1186 INFO RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BAKU 000395
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PREL AF AM TU AJ SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR USEUCOM COMMANDER GENERAL CRADDOCK, MAY 20-21
¶1. (SBU) Your visit comes as Baku continues to be abuzz with analysis, sometimes speculative and alarming, of Turkey and Armenia's recent announcement of a "roadmap" to reconcile differences over interpretation of events of 1915 and the eventual reopening of borders, and implications of the deal on Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations. The news of Turkey-Armenia "rapprochement" forced Baku into a diplomatic scramble to ensure the protection of its equities on issues, including the future of westward transit of Caspian hydrocarbons. President Aliyev met with Armenian President Sargsyanin Prague on May 7; Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visited Baku May 13. The President and other high-level officials have traveled repeatedly to Moscow for energy and security discussions. Some officials, at times, have been critical of U.S. actions. Through all of this, though, the GOAJ's determination to contribute to the international effort in Afghanistan remains unchanged, and leaders want to engage with the United States in other military/security spheres. Regional Response '09, which involved over 200 troops from the Utah National Guard, was a resounding success. President Aliyev meanwhile has consolidated his domestic political position through a national referendum eliminating the two-term limit that would have forced him to leave office in ¶2013. The country is maintaining macroeconomic and social stability in the face of the global financial crisis, but has taken insufficient steps to reform its economy and root out corruption to ensure longer term sustainability. Our three-pronged approach to the bilateral relationship (security, energy and political/economic reform) remains on course. End Summary.
¶2. (SBU) Azerbaijan's strategic direction is deeply affected by its physical security environment. Sandwiched between Russia and Iran, and with the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict tying down 70 percent of its ground forces along the Line of Contact, Azerbaijan recognizes the need for strong allies. The country has also increased its defense spending tenfold in five years and now spends nearly 2 billion dollars annually on defense. While this rate of growth may sound alarming, it is tempered by the fact that it represents an approximate three percent of GDP, the Azerbaijani Army is in need of replacing or repairing many items and infrastructure, and the sum of money is spread across multiple ministries, not just the MoD. Your GOAJ interlocutors will be unequivocal about Azerbaijan's orientation westward for its security needs, but they will just as forcefully argue that they need - and deserve - American weapons systems to build adequate defenses. Azerbaijan's Minister of Defense will claim that they make no secret that they are building their military power in order to defend their territory. He will likely claim that lack of military sales from the US is driving them to further dependence on Russian-made weaponry, and further from NATO integration. Azerbaijanis complain bitterly about the restrictions of section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, even when the waiver provision is invoked, because of the "parity" policy on assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan observed by Congressional appropriators.
¶3. (SBU) Late last year Azerbaijan withdrew its 150-man contingent from Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi Government.
(The Iraqi Government at that time asked most smaller
coalition contingents to depart.) Azerbaijan's troops had partnered with U.S. Marines guarding the Haditha Dam. Since then, Azerbaijan has followed through on its commitment to double from 45 to 90 the size of its military contribution to Afghanistan, and is awaiting the Afghan government's response to its proposal of increasing investment and civilian contributions such as construction of schools and training Afghan diplomats as police at its academies. Your interlocutors here, particularly at the MFA, will be keen to discuss developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and may offer additional areas for cooperation.
¶4. (SBU) Your visit is an opportunity to solidify further Azerbaijan's cooperation on regional security issues and counter-terrorism, and to build on Commander, USTRANSCOM General McNabb's efforts to develop a surface transport corridor linking Europe and the CENTCOM operational theaters.
Baku has been a willing military participant in OEF and OIF
and already allows virtually unlimited transit of its
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airspace and flexible refueling arrangements in support of operations. Your visit is also an opportunity to gauge Azerbaijan's level of willingness to allow wider access to Heydar Aliyev airport as the U.S. interagency continues to refine options. Particularly in light of recent events in Turkey and Armenia, Azerbaijan is keen to reassure itself that its interests and views are not being ignored, and your pursuit of Azerbaijan's cooperation will be taken as a reassuring signal that the partnership developed over the past several years has real value to the United States and will continue.
Regional Response '09
¶5. (SBU) Military exercise REGIONAL RESPONSE 2009 (RR09) occurred from 15-28 April 2009. RR09 was an Afghanistan peacekeeping scenario-based company-level field training exercise consisting of platoon-level situational training lanes. The lanes provided training in cordon and search, quick reaction force operations, and patrolling. Overall, all reports indicate the exercise itself was a success with both sides benefitting from the experience. Over 700 personnel, 200 US and 500 Azerbaijani soldiers participated in RR09 at the Qaraheybat Training Center about 40 minutes outside of Baku. Although the negotiation phase for the RR09 Exercise Support Agreement (ESA) was difficult and drawn out, for this first-of-its-kind exercise, the execution phase went extremely well. Not only did Azerbaijan provide two companies from their best units (NATO OCC Battalion and Peacekeeping Battalion) to participate in RR09, they also spent tremendous energy in providing support to U.S. personnel, i.e., housing, transportation, etc.
¶6. (SBU) During the ESA negotiations, the issues that caused the greatest concern was the Foreign Minister's objection to not offering input early in the process, and his objection to the "political aspect" of conducting exercises. He clarified that if the exercise was "in the spirit of PfP," and "multilateral," his objections would be lifted. Other issues to be worked were those of criminal jurisdiction over US forces and taxation. Initially, there was very little negotiating room with the relevant Azerbaijani Ministries on these two crucial issues and the exercise looked to be in jeopardy. Only once President Aliyev and the Foreign Minister Mammadyarov both personally intervened to approve the diplomatic notes and language required by the U.S. was the exercise allowed to proceed. Once the political approval was granted, all relevant ministries/agencies fell into line and provided the required support, i.e., customs, immigration, AZAL, etc. It should also be noted that Azerbaijan is participating in NATO's annual Operation Longbow/Operation Lancer exercises, which is taking place this year in Georgia May 6 ) June 3, and they never waived on their intent to participate, despite reporting to the contrary. President Aliyev likes to point out to visitors that Armenia declined to participate.
Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh
¶7. (SBU) GOAJ officials from the President down are unanimous that Nagorno-Karabakh is "issue number one" for the President's second term. Beyond the obvious territorial and security concerns stemming from the conflict, the issue is the one question that unites the Azerbaijani public on a visceral level. Azerbaijan is willing to pursue the political track to solve the matter; however any solution that does not guarantee the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is anathema. Azerbaijanis' views on this issue have intensified in the context of Turkish-Armenian moves toward opening the border. Presidents Aliyev and Sargsian last met during the summit on EU Eastern Partnership in Prague on May 7. Public accounts of the results were mixed, with Azerbaijani commentators, both official and private, taking a skeptical view. Aliyev and Sargsyan are scheduled to meet again in June in St. Petersburg. If the issue is raised in your meetings, we recommend that you emphasize that the United States views Turkey-Armenia reconciliation and Nagorno-Karabakh resolution as processes that both need to move forward to promote regional stability - a point recognized by POTUS during his address to the Turkish Parliament - and strongly reiterate the commitment of the United States to the Minsk Group process.
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¶8. (SBU) Energy is one of the three essential areas of United States engagement with Azerbaijan, along with security and political and economic reform. Azerbaijan's massive oil and gas reserves and strategic location place the country at the epicenter of Eurasia energy policy. Azerbaijan currently exports oil through two non-Russian pipelines to European markets (Baku-Supsa (Georgia/Black Sea) and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan), in addition to the Baku-Novorossiysk (Russia/Black Sea) pipeline, and produces natural gas for export via Georgia and Turkey. As a producing and transit country, Azerbaijan is key to the development of a Southern Corridor to transport Caspian hydrocarbons to European and world markets, including Kazakh oil and Turkmen gas. The 1 million barrel per day BTC pipeline was disrupted during the August crisis by an explosion in Turkey uncorrelated to the Russian invasion of Georgia, but Russian bombing near Tbilisi did destroy a rail crossing vital to Baku's back-up transport plan. For this reason, the USG has conveyed to the GOAJ the United States' interest in cooperating on critical energy infrastructure protection.
¶9. (SBU) Bilateral difficulties centering on the price of Azerbaijani gas now being sold to Turkey and the unwillingness of Turkey to grant transit to Azerbaijani gas that would be exported in the future to European markets are the major obstacles to the success of the "Southern Corridor" project, which seeks to diversify routes for Caspian gas to European markets. Azerbaijan's diplomatic difficulties with Turkey at the moment intensify this problem.
¶10. (SBU) Azerbaijan's oil production at offshore fields, which are mainly operated by a consortium led by British Petroleum (BP), have the capacity of 1 million barrels per day; however technical disruptions in the fall and winter reduced that output. Meanwhile, international oil companies are urging Azerbaijan to conclude agreements with Kazakhstan to allow oil to flow by tanker to BTC from the mammoth North Caspian Kashagan field, which should come on line in 2013. Chevron has already begun shipping small volumes of oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz field to BTC. In this connection, we are noting to the GOAJ that the goals of transparency, security and safety will be e best served by including the International Energy Companies who are partners in the Kashagan and Tengiz fields in any cross-Caspian transportation arrangements.
Democracy and Reform
¶11. (SBU) Generally speaking, the October 2008 presidential election and the hastily conducted March 2009 referendum that made 41 changes to the Constitution, inter alia, to lift the two-term restriction on the President were not positive moments in Azerbaijan's democratic transition. The referendum in particular was arranged with lightning speed by the ruling party, with parliamentary approval, and Embassy observers reported widespread fraud during voting. However, the fraud appeared to be directed at padding the vote totals, and we assessed that especially considering the low bar that Azerbaijani law sets for the adoption of referendum measures, the Government would have succeeded in any event. The main opposition parties, which are generally weak and lack popular support, boycotted the October election and the referendum.
¶12. (SBU) Many observers believed that once he was secure in another five year term, President Ilham Aliyev would make conciliatory gestures to the opposition and tack back on to a moderate course on democratization and increase the GOAJ's respect for human rights. This has not yet happened to a large extent, but there are some minor and encouraging indicators. One prominent imprisoned journalist benefited from an amnesty and was released, and the President recently intervened to overturn the convictions of two other journalists who had been sentenced to prison and hard labor under a criminal libel statute. We are also informed that the GOAJ may coordinate the drafting of implementing legislation for the constitutional changes approved by the referendum with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. However, the media environment is still far from free and the Council of Europe has appointed a Special Rapporteur on Political Prisoners, a German parliamentarian who is expected to visit the country in June. Lack of freedom of assembly is a large problem.
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¶13. (SBU) Should your Azerbaijani interlocutors raise any of these issues, you are certain to hear complaints that Azerbaijan is treated unfairly by the United States and Europe on human rights and democracy compared to Armenia. A consistent message that the United States has no double standards on human rights and that security and stability are enhanced by, and indeed depend on, the development of democracy and respect for human rights will reinforce the unwavering message that the United States delivers to Azerbaijan on the key reform issues.
¶14. Your visit provides an opportunity to engage with key GOAJ decision makers and demonstrate the strategic importance of the United States' relations with Azerbaijan at a moment of important regional change. Your visit also affords an opportunity to brief the Azerbaijanis on the Administration's Afghanistan-Pakistan review and NATO's role within it. With the President and others, your comments will be well received and timely, as well as a positive sign of the United States' intentions, with Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere, in light of the Turkey-Armenia process. End comment.