AZERBAIJANI BRIDGEHEAD; THE UNITED STATES PROCLAIMED PLANS TO ABSORB ANOTHER POST-SOVIET REPUBLIC INTO NATO
Yuri Roks

WPS Agency
June 27, 2008 Friday
Russia

AZERBAIJAN DOES NOT FORCE THE ISSUE OF MEMBERSHIP IN NATO FOR THE TIME
BEING; The US ambassador in Baku said the membership of Azerbaijan in
the Alliance was to be discussed soon. Observers and the Azerbaijani
themselves called it wishful thinking.

US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ann Derse, said Tuesday that the
US-Azerbaijani consultations in Baku next month would dwell on the
possibility to accept this country into the Alliance. The words of
the US diplomat at the conference "Integration of Azerbaijan into
the Euro-Atlantic Zone and Democratic Elections" raised some eyebrows
in Baku.

"Azerbaijan is no hurry to ponder membership in NATO. Our interaction
is quite successful for the time being. As for the rest, time
will tell," Azerbaijani Representative to NATO, Kjamil Khasiyev,
said. Khasiyev denounced speculations on the nationwide referendum over
NATO membership like the one in Georgia. "Azerbaijan participates
in more than 250 NATO events, which makes it one of NATO's most
active partners throughout the world and definitely the most active
in this part of the Caucasus. Over 50 events within the framework
of cooperation with NATO take place in Azerbaijan every year," the
diplomat said but stressed that membership in the Alliance was not
on the agenda at this point.

All the same, Derse's words had a profound impact. Being the US
ambassador, she has been playing a particularly active part in
Azerbaijani social and political life. "To a certain extent, she
is for Azerbaijan what US ambassadors are for Georgia," a prominent
Azerbaijani journalist said on condition of anonymity.

"Her statement is not to be dismissed even though it is clear that
Azerbaijan is not going to end up in the Alliance tomorrow or the
day after," the journalist added.

Azerbaijan is therefore the third GUAM country after Georgia and
Ukraine (the bloc includes Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijani, and Moldova)
whose necessity Western officials promote. As for Moldova, observers
suspect that its resolve to remain beyond the existing blocs may
weaken or even disappear altogether after the presidential election
this autumn.

Ambassador of Turkey to Azerbaijan, Hulusi Kilich, elaborated on
the idea of Azerbaijani membership in the Alliance. "Turkey offers
Azerbaijan all aid and assistance en route to NATO," the diplomat
said. Kilich commented on the progress Azerbaijan had made on the
path to democratization despite the grave situation in national
economy and the occupation of part of its territory. Speaking of
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Kilich said Ankara was for a peaceful
resolution of the crisis within the framework of territorial integrity
of Azerbaijan.

"There is nothing surprising about the processes under way in
Azerbaijan. They are natural, and I do not think that Moscow is overly
surprised. Azerbaijan's road into NATO will be longer than the roads of
Georgia or Ukraine because of the conflict in Karabakh... The Georgian
situation is somewhat similar but not entirely. Where the Abkhazian
and Ossetian conflicts are concerned, the West is beginning to see
Russia as an involved party. That is why it is prepared to defend
Georgia when it is highly unlikely that it will choose to defend
Azerbaijan from Armenia. Azerbaijani membership in NATO meanwhile will
create a new and interesting factor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
settlement. There is no way to say what role this factor will play,
but that this role will be a central one is already clear," Professor
Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center said.

Zardusht Ali-Zade, Azerbaijani political scientist and ex-candidate
for president, called membership in NATO a matter of the distant
future. "When IPAP was completed, the Azerbaijani authorities did
not even suggest another phase of interaction," he said. "Instead,
they chose to repeat the previous phase all over again. They
know after all that membership in NATO will compromise their own
stability." Ali-Zade dismissed membership in NATO as absolutely
pointless for Azerbaijan. Its members (Iran, Russia, Georgia) do not
threaten Azerbaijan in the least while the remaining neighbor, Armenia
that occupied some Azerbaijani territories, has the international
community's support. "This statement is needed by whoever made it
in the first place and by certain circles in Azerbaijan itself,"
the political scientist said. "We'd better concentrate on learning
from NATO how to develop an army where the safety of personnel is the
first priority. We'd better focus on learning from them whatever is
helpful. That will be more than enough."