Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, has the proper mix of abundant natural resources and uncomplicated politics making it attractive to Washington. Additionally, Baku has the desire to become fully integrated in the West, perhaps even joining the European Union.
It would in fact seem that the United States may have found a new best friend in the region in Azerbaijan. Indeed, an article in a newspaper in Azerbaijan recently described relations between the United States and Azerbaijan as “excellent.”
What does Washington see in this country that is lacking in the rest of the area and that makes it so attractive as a strategic partner? The answer is simple: Azerbaijan comes with an abundance of oil and natural gas, but without the complicated politics some other countries in the region seem to carry, along with the proverbial chip on their shoulders. And more importantly, the anger and hate that is often directed at the United States and that is found in many countries in the general neighborhood is not found in Azerbaijan.
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Geographically speaking the country is both in a desirable position and in one that is not to be envied. It borders Russia to the north, Iran to the south and to the west are Georgia and Armenia. Azerbaijan has managed quite successfully to navigate these complicated geopolitical waters of the region and in maintaining good relations with all its neighbors, except for Armenia with which it went to war when the Soviet Union broke up. The point of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan is over the disputed territories of Nagorno Karabagh.
Azerbaijan has managed to stave off the giant neighbor to the north, Russia, all while developing closer ties with Washington. And while technically it is a Muslim country with a large Shiite majority, the Azerbaijanis are light years ahead of their coreligionists in next-door Iran.
Azerbaijan has even managed to maintain cordial relations with Iran, and that despite a disagreement over oil fields in the Caspian, and the fact that periodically the Azeri security services arrest Iranians planning to blow up the Israeli embassy in Baku.
Azerbaijan has adopted a free market economy and is introducing more democracy. While the country has still some ways to go before becoming a fully-fledged democracy, it fares far better than all the other former soviet states in the Central Asian, Caspian, and Caucasus region. It is far more advanced and free than Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, countries that may have shed the label of communism yet remain ruled by authoritative regimes.
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In addition, Azerbaijan holds a significant strategic position for the United States, being so close to Iran and Russia.
As for oil, Azerbaijan, is among the oldest oil producers in the world. The country is one of the Caspian region's most important strategic export openings to the West. The US Energy Information Administration places Azerbaijan’s production level at just over 1.1 million barrels per day and ranks it as 21st place in terms of oil producing countries.
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor at Trend News Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. Follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani