US Embassy Cables: Azerbaijan Leader Sought Washington Pressure on NKR


LONDON (Guardian) — A coarse joke about political rivalry between Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, and its prime minister, Vladimir Putin, told to American diplomats may land Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev, in trouble next time he meets one or both leaders.

Aliyev used coarse street slang to describe the relationship between Medvedev and Putin, but he might well have used the same idiom to describe his concerns about Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and the Nagorno-Karabagh peace process. He told Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns that the “Sword of Damocles” of the April 24 Armenian Remembrance Day is hanging over the Nagorno Karabagh Process, as well as the Turkey-Armenia normalization process. He suggested that it would be easier if the Turkey- Armenia normalization could be considered after April in order to allow more time for progress on Nagorno Karabagh.

He also took the opportunity to press the US government to apply maximum pressure on Yerevan to make concessions on Nagorno Karabagh. He stressed, “Now we are trying to be even more flexible.”

On Iran, Aliyev said he supported economic isolation and believed it could be effective if enforced by a broad coalition. He complained about Iranian security provocations. On energy cooperation, President Aliyev said that if the Turks demonstrate “constructive behavior” this year that a gas transit deal can happen. Finally, on the jailed youth activists, though he made no firm commitments regarding their release, he said, “I think [a pardon or amnesty] can be done. I had no intention to hurt anyone.”

Seeks Pressure on Yerevan to Resolve Nagorno Karabagh

Burns began his hour-long meeting with President Ilham Aliyev by stressing that he was sent with the simple message that Washington wants to build bilateral relations and create a stronger partnership. He then offered his condolences for the three Azeri soldiers killed on the Line of Contact on February 18. Aliyev responded that such events show that there is no peace, no peace treaty and no peacekeepers enforcing the cease-fire. He worried more such incidents could happen. Burns commented that such incidents underscored the urgency of finding a political solution on Nagorno-Karabagh.

The balance of Aliyev’s comments sought to convey that he was ready to move forward in the Minsk Group Process, but that international pressure would be needed if Armenia was to move forward. He said that it is now time to find a final resolution, but Armenian President Sargsian wants to walk away from the process. “I told the co-chairs that Armenia wants to delay as long as possible and escape at the end.” “He said that Azerbaijan was prepared to do its part to propel the talks forward. “Now we will try to be even more flexible.”

Aliyev outlined several steps to persuade Armenia to agree to the Minsk Group Basic Principles: the three co-chair countries should consolidate their efforts at a senior-level; the three co-chair countries should send a strong message that the independence of NK is not under review, and if these new proposals are not accepted, there should be consequences in terms of international isolation, especially in the form of Russia’s curtailing some of its economic support for Armenia.

Aliyev noted that at Sochi, President Serge Sargisian had inserted a proposal for specifying a definite date for a referendum or plebiscite on Nagorno Karabagh’s final status. This, Aliyev argued, undermined the entire framework of the agreement, which is premised on an eventual referendum ) with no definite timeframe ) in exchange for legalizing “the illegally established regime in Nagorno Karabagh.” He also noted that Armenia is vulnerable to isolation because it is dependent upon remittances from its diaspora, as well as imports of gas and electricity. “After 18 years of negotiation, we have tested all options. If this phase [of Minsk Group talks] ends, what is next?” the president asked aloud.

The Russian Role in Nagorno Karabagh and Russian Succession

In response to Burns’ question about the Russian role in the Nagorno Karabagh talks, Aliyev responded that he was convinced that Medvedev’s efforts have been sincere. He said that Medvedev has personally met with the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents five times. Thus, any failure to make progress on this issue will damage Medvedev’s credibility.

He said that at Sochi, Medvedev tried to persuade Sargisian to achieve a breakthrough. He added, however, that it was strange that with so much pressure from Moscow and Lavrov’s visit to Yeveran, the Armenians not only resisted progress, but actually backtracked on previously- agreed items. In response to a question, Aliyev said that he believes that Putin has his own separate opinion about the desirability of an Nagorno Karabagh resolution.

“I have no evidence, but I can feel this,” Aliyev remarked.

Aliyev said that he considers Medvedev “a modern, new-generation intellectual,” surrounded by people whom he does not control. He said that he has personally witnessed Medvedev taking decisions that then required further approval before they were implemented, referring specifically to a border demarcation agreement that he had agreed with Medvedev only to have it stymied by “others,” presumably in the prime ministerial office. He added, “Many high-ranking officials don’t recognize (Medvedev) as a leader.”

He said that there are signs of a strong confrontation between the teams of the two men, although not yet between Putin and Medvedev personally. “We have a saying in Azeri, ‘Two heads cannot be boiled in one pot’” (crude street slang suggesting that two leaders are spoiling for a fight).

Strong Pushback on the Turkey- Armenia Normalization

Burns stressed that the US believes that progress on the Turkey-Armenia protocols could create political space for Sargisian to be more flexible on Nagorno Karabagh. He continued that the reverse was also true, that a failure of the Turkey- Armenia process would almost certainly result in serious negative consequences for the peace process.

Aliyev said that progress would require a minimum of five or six months.

He said that the “Sword of Damocles” of the Armenian Remembrance Day is hanging unhelpfully not only over the Turkey-Armenia process, but also now the NK progress. “If there were no deadline, maybe we could see how to combine our efforts [to resolve NK].”

Aliyev pushed back with his usual warnings about the negative effects of Turkey-Armenia protocol ratification without being proceeded by NK progress. He darkly predicted postponement of any NK settlement; no comprehensive regional security improvement; damage to Turkey-Azerbaijani relations; no real partnership between Turkey and Armenia; further isolation of Central Asia; the undermining of energy projects; and damage to Georgia, both in lost transit income, but also in its role as the sole land corridor between Russia and Armenia.

Relations with Iran Described as Tense and Unstable

Burns explained in detail the steps the US had taken to initiate dialogue with Tehran and support the Tehran Research Reactor initiative. He ended by noting that, given the rejection of these overtures, the US would move forward with another UNSC resolution that included new sanctions targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Aliyev responded that although the visible side of Azerbaijan’s relations with Iran appears normal, the substance was very different. “I do not exclude that relations will be become more difficult. German Chancellor Merkel was very firm with me on Iran, trying to persuade me. I told her, ‘No need.’”

He said that he was supportive of Iran’s economic isolation and believed it could work if the international community worked together.

Aliyev said that Iranian provocations in Azerbaijan were on the rise. He specifically cited not only the financing of radical Islamic groups and Hezbollah terrorists, but also the Iranian financing of violent Ashura ceremonies in Nakhichevan; the organization of demonstrations in front of the Azeri consulates in Tabriz and Istanbul; a violent religious procession recently in Baku; the use of the President’s photo alongside the Star of David on the Azerilanguage Seher TV broadcast into Azerbaijan and conflict in the Caspian.

The president added that Azerbaijan will not reciprocate on the liberalization of the visa regime with Iran.

He also noted that Azerbaijan is planning to create a TV channel in Persian that will broadcast into Iran. He said that he did not understand why the Supreme Religious Leader chose Ahmadinejad over former President Moussavi. He joked that perhaps it was too dangerous to have two ethnic Azeris at the head of the Iranian state. He said that the election fraud in Iranwas outrageous, with Ahmadinejad winning in Azeri-dominated Tabriz and Moussavi winning in Tehran, where it was harder to falsify the vote. He viewed the situation as very tense within Iran and believed it could erupt at any time.