USA/Azerbaijan — Gates Talks Strengthen Azerbaijan Partnership

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, June 7, 2010 — Call­ing Azer­bai­jan an impor­tant part­ner in the coalition’s efforts in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said he dis­cussed a stronger mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between Azer­bai­jan and the Unit­ed States in meet­ings with two of the country’s lead­ers yes­ter­day and today.

Gates Talks Strengthen Azerbaijan Partnership
Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, right cen­ter, and Azer­bai­jani Min­is­ter of Defense Colonel Gen­er­al Safar Akhund­bala oglu Abiyev, left cen­ter, hold a meet­ing at the Min­istry of Defense in Baku, Azer­bai­jan, June 7, 2010.
DoD pho­to by Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Jer­ry Mor­ri­son
Click to enlarge

After arriv­ing in the Azer­bai­jani cap­i­tal of Baku yes­ter­day, Gates vis­it­ed with Pres­i­dent Ilham Aliyev, and met today with Defense Min­is­ter Col. Gen. Safar Abiyev. “They play an impor­tant part in Afghanistan, not only in terms of the troops they have there – and also a civil­ian pres­ence – but [through] ground trans­porta­tion and allow­ing over flights,” Gates said, “so [the vis­it] was part­ly to express appre­ci­a­tion for that.”

Azer­bai­jani ser­vice­mem­bers are part of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan, and the coun­try is a key part of the glob­al air and ground net­work that resup­plies ISAF and Afghan forces and brings in sup­plies for con­struc­tion projects.

The sec­re­tary deliv­ered a let­ter to Aliyev from Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma that express­es grat­i­tude for Azerbaijan’s con­tri­bu­tions in Afghanistan, say­ing such assis­tance has “strength­ened your country’s stature as a stead­fast secu­ri­ty part­ner.” The let­ter also con­veys Obama’s desire for a broad­er and deep­er future rela­tion­ship between the two coun­tries.

Dur­ing his talks in Baku, Gates said, he and the Azer­bai­jani lead­ers dis­cussed strength­en­ing the bilat­er­al mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of fur­ther U.S. help with mar­itime secu­ri­ty in the Caspi­an Sea. “We already help them there with sev­er­al tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, boats, radars and capa­bil­i­ties,” the sec­re­tary said.

More mil­i­tary exer­cis­es and intel­li­gence shar­ing also came up dur­ing the meet­ings, he added, and the dis­cus­sions also touched on Iran and Rus­sia. “These guys clear­ly live in a rough neigh­bor­hood,” Gates said, “and I told them at the same time how much the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty appre­ci­at­ed what they were doing to help every­body in Afghanistan.” The Azer­bai­jani lead­ers expressed con­cern about a lack of progress in a long-stand­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­pute with Arme­ni­ans in the Nar­gorno-Karabakh region, Gates said, and he promised to relay the mes­sage to Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton. Oba­ma also men­tioned the dis­pute in his let­ter to Aliyev, say­ing a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion is crit­i­cal to the South Cau­ca­sus region and promis­ing sup­port for such an out­come would remain a U.S. pri­or­i­ty.

“All in all,” Gates said, “I would say it was a very pos­i­tive vis­it, and I think it set the stage for fur­ther expan­sion of the rela­tion­ship. We will have a bilat­er­al defense con­sul­ta­tion next month, where I think a lot of the things that we dis­cussed will be put on the table and per­haps fleshed out.” The sec­re­tary left Baku this morn­ing, bound for Lon­don to meet with lead­ers of the new British gov­ern­ment.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)