Top US official’s crucial phone call that rectified diplomatic scandal
    Armenian lobby groups fish for worsening Baku-Washington ties

    ANALYTICS  12 December 2023 - 09:00

    Fuad Muxtar-Agbabali

    Relations between the USA and Azerbaijan hit rock bottom after the 44-day Second Karabakh War when Baku liberated its internationally-recognized territories from Armenia’s nearly 30-year-long savage occupation militarily.

    Executive Summary

    The Azerbaijani army accomplished the mission with the September 19-20, 2023, anti-terror operation to regain full control over the whole of Karabakh that lasted less than a day without a single civilian killed or hurt that turned out to be the last straw that broke the camel's back.

    Baku’s decisive move needled the West, particularly France and the USA, who initiated a series of anti-Azerbaijani resolutions. On November 15, 2023, a congressional hearing and anti-Azerbaijani remarks by a Biden administration official was the last nail in the coffin that led to the deterioration of the relations and lasted nearly two weeks against the expectations of the mastermind.

    On November 27, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned the Azerbaijani president and bent over backward to fine-tune the situation. Among the issues raised was Azerbaijan’s consent to a visit of James O’Brien, US Assistant Secretary of State, to Baku to discuss ways of expediting the process of preparing and signing a peace deal.

    An insider, who wished to remain anonymous, said James O’Brien’s visit was not only about discussing ways of tackling the conflict but also mending the interstate ties he had harmed with his provocative and scathing remarks in the hearing. The insider added that James O’Brien coped with the task and explained the reasons that compelled him to make anti-Azerbaijani remarks, attributing them to the pressure of the Armenian diaspora and lobby groups in the Congress ahead of the US presidential polls.

    Congressional hearing

    Engineered by the pro-Armenian lobby groups and the Armenian diaspora to exert outright pressure on Azerbaijan to upset the apple cart and prevent it from taking bold steps to fully restore its full sovereignty, the US Subcommittee on Europe of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on November 15, 2023, held a hearing, where US Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien made a series of anti-Azerbaijani statements that aggravated the already chilly relationship between Baku and Washington.

    Among the anti-Azerbaijani remarks, to name but a few, was O'Brien’s unequivocal statement that “no chance of business as usual” after the events of September 19, 2023, “until there is progress towards peace” as well as his allegation that “Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan appears genuinely interested in achieving peace”, questioning Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s intention to this end, thus fuelling the overstretched relations and triggering a series of anti-Azerbaijani moves.

    Azerbaijan denounces the congressional hearing

    On November 16, Azerbaijan strongly lashed out at the US hearing and warned that Washington could lose the mediation role in the peace talks between Baku and Yerevan. Azerbaijan also withdrew from a proposed round of talks with Armenia in the USA and reciprocated the US ban on high-level visits of Azerbaijani officials. Baku assessed O'Brien's remarks as one-sided, biased, groundless, irrational, and unacceptable and reacted to his "no chance of business as usual" similarly.

    "Under such circumstances, we consider the possibility of high-level US visits to Azerbaijan inappropriate," the Foreign Ministry said, adding that while commenting on Baku's September military operation against the Karabakh separatist army, James O'Brien scorned the fact that there were illegal Armenian troops in the region.

    The phone call that thwarted plans to mar Washington-Baku ties

    Against the expectations and wishes of pro-Armenian lobby groups and diaspora, the harm done on November was undone on 27 November by James O’Brien’s boss - Antony Blinken, who made a phone call to President Ilham Aliyev to offer an apology and ask Baku to allow the man who made a mess visit Azerbaijan for an explanation of what went wrong that day.

    “President Ilham Aliyev said that the latest statements and actions taken by the US have seriously damaged Azerbaijan-US relations,” according to the presidential press service

    The president further underlined that the remarks about Azerbaijan, made by the US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe, hearing on November 15, 2023, were biased, failed to reflect reality and were rejected by Azerbaijan. He added that Azerbaijan took note of the statement about canceling the senior-level engagements with Azerbaijan and “no chance of business as usual”, and responded adequately.

    “With the aim of normalization of relationship, Secretary Blinken has asked to allow the visit of the US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien in December to Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev has agreed to this proposal on the condition that after this visit the unfounded ban on the visits of Azerbaijani high-level officials to the United States will be lifted. Secretary Blinken has accepted that,” the press service said.

    On December 6, US Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien visited Azerbaijan to discuss ways of a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as mend the bonds he broke knowingly or unknowingly.

    Major takeaways

    Washington has strategic interests in the South Caucasus region and the White House must play a role in resolving the conflict and preserve its all-out presence. The opportunities for the US diplomacy to play a balanced and fair role are high both now and were, as one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, this role yielded no results and after Azerbaijan restored its sovereignty over the entire territory, there remained no role for the co-chairs to play.

    The US can play a decisive role in overcoming potential obstacles and challenges, paving the way to the final stage of signing the peace deal. Acknowledging potential challenges and obstacles in the peace process, Washington has to consider historical grievances, geopolitical complexities, and the involvement of other regional actors and force Armenia to accept the results of the war.

    The US can also actively contribute to facilitating a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This may involve diplomatic initiatives, economic incentives, or leveraging its influence with international organizations. The US needs to persuade Armenia that lessons need to be learned from past peace processes and the denial to do so might lead to a new cataclysm.

    In the realm of international relations, the recent diplomatic incident involving James O’Brien’s criticism of Azerbaijan provides a vivid illustration of the adage: "It is down to one, who has harmed to undo it.” This saying encapsulates the essence of accountability and the imperative to rectify a mistake.

    O’Brien’s critical remarks that created a diplomatic uproar, prompted swift and decisive action. In this case, the apology extended by Antony Blinken symbolizes the acknowledgment of the blunder committed. The act of calling the Azerbaijani president and expressing regret is akin to recognizing the consequences of the harm done and taking responsibility for undoing it.

    The subsequent request for James O’Brien’s visit to Azerbaijan serves as the removal of confrontation and is an attempt to mend relations, offering an opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation. This diplomatic move aligns with the wisdom of the above saying, highlighting the necessity to address the fallout of one's actions, regardless of the magnitude of the mistake.

    As the situation progresses in the light of the phone call, there are signs of improvement in the diplomatic ties between the two nations. The proactive steps taken by the US top diplomat indicate a commitment to rectifying the misstep and fostering a positive atmosphere. The adage underscores the idea that, just as the one who causes harm must take steps to undo it, diplomatic missteps demand corrective actions to pave the way for better relations.

    The Armenian diasporas in the USA and France are the gravediggers of Armenians in the South Caucasus. They abuse their ties, influencing corrupt legislators to exert pressure on Azerbaijan and water down relations between the White House and Baku.

    With his statement in Baku, James O'Brien refused his words at the Congress. The American diplomat emphasized that relations between the United States and Azerbaijan have deep roots and that the two countries are good partners.

    Before the meeting, there was another announcement from Washington that eased tension. Matthew Miller, the press secretary of the State Department, said "we have never said that we do not intend to continue our relations with Azerbaijan. This would be against our interests".

    As expected, the Baku meeting between James O'Brien and Ilham Aliyev highlighted the positive aspects of relations.

    Caliber.Az

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