Azerbaijan: An opportunity for America

Nov 06, 2005 01:00 AM

by Kay Bailey Hutchinson

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wrought an enormous amount of human suffering. The destructive storms also demonstrated the need for the US to identify new sources of energy.
Katrina and Rita knocked out pipelines to the Midwest, cut oil production in the Gulf of Mexico by 90 % and interrupted one-tenth of our domestic refining capacity. In response, the price of oil exceeded $ 70 a barrel for the first time. Until we can develop reliable alternatives to oil and natural gas, it is imperative that we expand our oil sources by forging new strategic alliances.

One nation holds great promise. Azerbaijan, located between Russia and Iran, sits atop major proven oil reserves on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The country recently celebrated the opening of the 1,093-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which will transport Azerbaijan's oil to the Mediterranean Sea via Georgia and Turkey. This pipeline, which begins in Azerbaijan, stands to offer up to 1.6 mm bpd of non-OPEC oil to the West within a few years.
A twin pipeline is set to open next year to carry natural gas.

Azerbaijan's leaders have demonstrated their willingness to work with the United States in the war on terror and on maintaining security in Central Asia. This nation is the first with a Muslim majority to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq in addition to the troops it sent in support of peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Azerbaijan and the United States also maintain an open air-space policy, giving US aircraft vital access to that nation's runways, where Air Force cargo planes have been landing since 2001.

This small, former Soviet satellite nation of just 8 mm people is working to strengthen its ties to the global community through participation in the European Union's Neighbourhood Policy, collaboration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a move towards membership in the World Trade Organization.
Despite having problems with refugees and infrastructure damaged in its war with Armenia in the 1980s and '90s, Azerbaijan even offered financial assistance to the United States in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It has frozen terrorist assets and improved border and customs security. In addition, it has signed all 12 of the international counter terrorism conventions and protocols that the State Department tracks in its annual reporting. These are important indicators that Azerbaijan is intent on joining the ranks of the world's respected and responsible nation-states.

With today's parliamentary elections, President Ilham Aliyev has a further opportunity to show the world the progress that his nation has made. If Azerbaijan delivers on its promise of free and fair elections, it will have made a significant step forward -- not only for its people but for its evolving relationship with the United States.
We must make securing new oil sources a priority, and we should look to expand relationships with nations such as Azerbaijan when they demonstrate their commitment to freedom.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is a US senator from Texas.

Source: Fort Worth Star Telegram
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