"The US is flirting with Azerbaijan": US Senate hearing statement
Menendez’s statements to the US Senate
“How can the United States justify any support for the ruling regime in Baku, be it in the area of security or otherwise? It’s unforgivable. Personally, I think this is morally unacceptable,” Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a hearing on foreign policy in the Caucasus.
He was referring to the threat of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh and the crimes of the Azerbaijani armed forces during the invasion of Armenia in September this year, and openly declared Azerbaijan an aggressor.
The senator expressed all his criticisms of the US authorities regarding their policy in the Caucasus to the US Deputy Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Karen Donfried, and the senior advisor on negotiations in the Caucasus and co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group, Philip Reeker.
Both avoided direct answers to the senator’s questions during the discussions. Menendez, at the end of his speech, said that he had never before been involved in a discussion that disappointed him more than this.
The Armenian authorities did not react to the American senator’s statements. According to political observer Hakob Badalyan, the US Senate only made political statements aimed at an internal audience, namely Armenians living in America.
What Senator Bob Menendez said, how representatives of the State Department answered him, and comment from Yerevan.
Assistance to Baku is ‘disrespectful to the Freedom Support Act’
Menendez finds it unbelievable that the United States “continues to provide security support to Azerbaijan.” In his opinion, this is not only “unforgivable and unacceptable”, but also “contempt for the Freedom Support Act”.
“Article 907 of this act is aimed at prohibiting assistance to Azerbaijan in the field of security until Baku takes clear steps towards removing all types of blockades and the threat of the use of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” he stated.
According to Menendez, the State Department has requested $600,000 for 2022 to provide Azerbaijan with international military education and training.
“I am categorically against providing any assistance to forces known for war crimes and aggression against a neighboring state,” the senator declared.
In support of his point of view, Menendez listed the crimes committed by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces during the September invasion of Armenia, including videos confirming the killing of unarmed Armenian prisoners, violence against female soldiers, and desecration of the bodies of the dead.
“There is still hope for a lasting peace”
The senator believes that the peoples of the South Caucasus should not live under the threat of violence, that tey “deserve to live in peace, freedom and security.” For this, he believes it is necessary
- “to ensure that the peace agreement with Azerbaijan does not lead to ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh;
- meet the needs there as a result of the humanitarian crisis;
- to bring to justice those who order and carry out the violence that we have seen in the region.”
Menendez maintains that US aid has upset the military balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“So I want you to give us all the details that Congress has requested. This is necessary so that we can evaluate any assistance that the United States provides to Baku. I still have hope for a stable peace in the region,” he said.
“The peace agenda does not mean the 'peaceful extermination' of Armenians” – Pashinyan
Armenian Prime Minister believes that “the global energy agenda has inspired the President of Azerbaijan”, but it is time for world players to take action on the “behavior of Azerbaijan”, which has become a threat to peace
“We provide means of defense”
According to Karen Donfried, the United States provides Baku “only defensive means that cannot be used against Armenia”:
“We provide border security equipment, which has yielded significant results given the transnational threats from Iran and smuggling routes to the South Caucasus, Russia and Europe.”
In response, Menendez said: “And allows Azerbaijan to violate the actual borders of Armenia.”
He believes that Washington is spending millions to give Baku the opportunity to save money and direct it to other purposes, including the purchase of offensive weapons against Armenia.
The American Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group Philip Reeker admitted that due to the efforts of Azerbaijan, access to Nagorno-Karabakh is limited even for representatives of the US government and humanitarian missions.
“Even I have not been able to visit Stepanakert recently,” he said.
State Department officials said that, despite all the difficulties and recent clashes [September hostilities on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border], Armenia and Azerbaijan now have an historic opportunity to normalize relations.
“We continue to encourage Armenia and Azerbaijan to keep the momentum of the negotiations going, and we do so in close coordination with the EU and other partners,” Donfried said.
“When someone is the aggressor, you must speak up”
With no concrete answers from State Department officials to a number of his questions, Senator Menendez concluded:
“Obviously, the US is flirting with Azerbaijan. It disappoints me when the State Department continues to urge both sides to refrain from violence. When someone is the aggressor, you must speak up. I don’t think deep knowledge is needed to understand who is the aggressor here, who has the appropriate capabilities to be the aggressor in this conflict. This is Azerbaijan.”
According to Menendez, two years after the 44-day war in Karabakh the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. He believes that this is due to the inaction of the US government:
“We have done nothing to verify and confirm reports of prohibited weapons being used there, including white phosphorus.”
According to political observer Hakob Badalyan, the hearings in the US Senate are of “domestic significance”, Menendez speaking mainly to voters.
“It is no secret that there is a large number of Armenians among the voters. It is not news that many American politicians often act with a bias to please Armenian voters,” he told JAMnews.
Badalyan believes that Menendez’s criticism of Azerbaijan, voiced in the Senate, should be taken as political posturing:
“It all sounds good, but one should not take it for anything else.”
According to Badalyan, the Karabakh conflict and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in general is a complex issue from the point of view of the interests of both its direct participants and geopolitical actors. He says that one should not pin hopes on any initiative, no matter what it is called — American, French or Russian:
“We should not be hopeful about this or that mediation mission. We must take into account their motives, be able to work with them to maximize their subordination to the interests of Armenia. At the same time, it is necessary to neutralize elements of competition between various initiatives as much as possible.”
According to Badalyan, the United States is no different from other mediators in the negotiation process:
“The US will not build relations with Armenia to the detriment of relations with Azerbaijan, and vice versa. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan will be important. In a broad sense, for the United States, the region, including the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, is a means of solving a wider range of problems. Among them is the Iranian problem.”
Menendez’s statements to the US Senate