Baku Today, Azerbaijan
Source: U.S. Department of State
May 1 2006

President Bush said Azerbaijan has "a very important role to play"
in energy security, and told visiting President Ilham Aliyev that it
is important for the world to see a modern Muslim country embracing
democracy for its future.

Speaking at the White House April 28, Bush said he and Aliyev held a
"candid discussion," which included topics such as concerns over Iran,
the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and energy.

"I appreciate the vision of the government and the vision of the
president in helping this world achieve what we all want, which is
energy security. Azerbaijan has got a very important role to play,"
he said.

Bush described Azerbaijan as an ally of the United States in the war
on terrorism.

"I appreciate so very much the government's contribution of support
in troops to the new democracy in Iraq," he said, and welcomed the
opportunity to "bring our ally up to date on the progress that's
being made on the ground there."

He also said they talked about "the need ... for the world to see
a modern Muslim country that is able to provide for its citizens,
that understands that democracy is the wave of the future."

Aliyev said his discussions with Bush "covered all the aspects of
our bilateral relations," and said he considers his visit as being
"instrumental in the future development of Azerbaijan as a modern,
secular, democratic country."

He thanked the United States for its leadership in promoting energy
security issues in the Caspian region, and in "assisting us to create
a solid transportation infrastructure which will allow us to develop
full-scale Caspian oil and gas reserves and to deliver them to the
international markets."

The Azeri leader also talked about the conflict between Armenia and
Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh and told Bush about the latest
negotiations, as well as his hope for a "peaceful settlement of the
conflict." (See related article.)

He also expressed his gratitude for U.S. assistance in promoting
Azerbaijan's political process, including the "democratization of our
society," adding that his government is "very committed to continue
this cooperation in the future."


Prior to the meeting, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said
Bush would use the occasion to discuss the U.S. desire for Azerbaijan
to "take needed steps to ensure greater democratic freedoms for the
people of Azerbaijan," and to see how the United States can assist
in making "needed democratic reforms."

McClellan said international observers, such as the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), had determined that
Azerbaijan's 2005 parliamentary elections "did not meet international
standards in a number of areas," citing "interference from local
authorities and serious violations during the vote count." (See
related article.)

However, the press secretary said there had been improvements over
previous elections, such as instituting the inking of voters' fingers
and allowing a more inclusive candidate registration process.

"We would note that the government took some steps shortly after the
elections to correct some of the shortcomings including dismissing
governors, reversing election results in three constituencies and
calling for 10 elections to be re-run which will take place on May 13,"
McClellan added.

Describing Azerbaijan as "a key ally in a region of great importance"
that is making contributions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo,
McClellan said the meeting between the two presidents could "help
encourage President Aliyev along the road to democracy."


Following his meeting with Bush, Aliyev said the relations between
the United States and Azerbaijan "are relations of friends [and]
partners," and that he was "very satisfied" with bilateral cooperation
in his country's political and economic reforms, energy security and
transportation, and cooperation against terrorism.

U.S.-Azeri relations "have a strategic importance for us and for
general regional development," he said.

"I consider my visit to the United States as very important and
instrumental in future development of bilateral ties between us,
and in the future regional development in the place we all live,"
Aliyev told reporters.

Although he said the discussions mostly were concerned with bilateral
issues, they also discussed "issues of regional security," including
the conflict over Iran's nuclear program.

"[W]e are all living in the region and the situation in countries
which Azerbaijan is neighboring for us is important, and of course
the Iranian issue was also discussed and we are satisfied with the
discussion," he said.

He also said the United States "definitely" supports Azerbaijan's
energy plans, and that the U.S. "leading role" in the region's energy
development programs is "very clear" and "decisive." U.S. support
and assistance for Azerbaijan's transportation infrastructure "was
and is very important," he added.