Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Madeleine Albright In Baku

The Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor reports that the former U.S. Secretary of State and Chair of the National Democratic Institute visited Baku on Monday and met with politicians, NGOs and the mass media. She was also expected to meet with the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev. The purpose of the visit was to "discuss the situation in the country ahead of the November 6 parliamentary elections."
The visit of the former high-ranking American official was immediately compared to the visit that former Secretary of State James Baker paid to Tbilisi in the summer of 2003. During that visit Baker convinced then-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to change the composition of the election commission, which later led to the Rose Revolution.


Albright herself drew the media's attention to the need for political freedom as a precondition of democratic elections. "If there are no fair election commissions, there will not be free elections," she said. When asked about the future of Azerbaijan, Albright replied that the country has a "happy future, if all the oil revenues are fairly distributed and there is an open market."


The major opposition parties, meanwhile, have united in a joint coalition "Azadliq" (Freedom) and are threatening to stage a "velvet revolution" should the authorities fail to hold free elections. On July 10, they held another street rally in Baku, in which, according to some observers, more than 35,000 people participated. Rallies also took place, for the first time in the past two years, outside of Baku, including the towns of Sumgait, Sabirabad, Gedebey, Sheki, and others.

The Bush administration remains in a difficult situation regarding this crucial election. While the White House urges more democracy around the world, as seen especially in U.S. efforts to reform the Middle East, Azerbaijan has been tied to the United States in a vital strategic cooperation arrangement over energy and security issues, with official Baku even sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thus, the pressures from Washington come at a careful pace, after consideration of U.S. national interests in the Caucasus.
The full article can be read online here.

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