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What is the position of the USA in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

In the early stages of the conflict, the USA, which was influenced by the powerful Armenian lobby in Congress, formulated more pro-Armenian policy.[1] The USA recognized the independence of Armenia before that of Azerbaijan, and Armenia was among the first five former Soviet republics where a US embassy was opened.[2] In October 1992, with the efforts of the Armenian lobby, the US Congress passed Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which restricted direct governmental support of the US for Azerbaijan unless it changed its “aggression policy” towards Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and abandoned the blockade.[3] As a result, Azerbaijan was for a long time the only post-Soviet state to be deprived of the US government aid, while Armenia was the highest per capita recipient.[4] Due to the pressure exerted by the Armenian lobby on Congress, Armenia was the only Soviet republic that received US aid in the Soviet era, in the aftermath of the earthquake in December 1988.[5] Section 907 was removed from the Congress resolution and approved by the President only after September 11, 2001, when there was a challenge to global anti-terror mobility.[6] Until that time, the US aid to Azerbaijan was limited to only humanitarian assistance, mostly focused on refugees and IDPs.[7]

The US has two contradictory policies on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: that of Congress and the policy of the State Department.[8] Unlike Congress, the State Department preferred to follow a path of neutrality with respect to the parties to the dispute and to contribute to attempts to settle the conflict.[9] In fact, the State Department played an important role in getting the dispute on the CSCE/OSCE agenda, and the format of the negotiations was based around the principles suggested by Secretary Baker.[10] However, until the mid-1990s, the US involvement in the negotiation process was restricted, as the Transcaucasia region was outside its strategic interests. Due to Azerbaijan’s easily reachable hydrocarbon resources and its significant geopolitical location, increasing the US interests was to prove key to it reformulating its policy toward the country, which in the end affected its position in the conflict as well.[11] This was especially true after 1994 when the “deal of the century” was signed, in which American companies held 40% of the total shares of the deal, and because of these issues even in Congress the attitude towards Azerbaijan and Armenia was balanced and the US began to follow a neutral policy in the conflict.[12] Besides, energy companies needed stability in the region if they were to perform their activities safely, and this motivated the US to participate more actively in the mediation process. In January 1997, the US became the third co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group, and this allowed it to engage directly in the process and initiate plans for a peaceful settlement.[13] In April 2001, the US organized the meeting between the presidents of the parties to the dispute in Key West.[14] Unfortunately, the anticipated progress in resolving the conflict was not made. After that, as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group, the US continued its efforts in talks initiated by the organization.

[1] King, David and Pomper, Miles, “The U.S. Congress and the Contingent In uence of Diaspora Lobbies: Lessons from U.S. Policy Toward Armenia and Azerbaijan”, Journal of Armenian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, Summer 2004, pp. 8-10.

[2] “U.S. Relations with Armenia”, Department of State, Bureau Of European And Eurasian Affairs, 12 February 2013; Accessed on October 5, 2020.

[3] King and Pomper, “The U.S. Congress and the Contingent In uence of Diaspora Lobbies”, p. 10.

[4] Cornell, Svante E., “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: A Delicate Balance”, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1998, p. 58.

[5] Brill Olcott, Martha, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus”, The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2002, p. 65.

[6] Kotanjian, Hayk, “Armenian Security and U.S. Foreign Policy in the South Caucasus”, The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, June 2004, p. 16.

[7] Nichol, Jim, “Azerbaijan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests”, Congressional Research Service, 22 February 2013, p. 28.

[8] Cornell, “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh”, p. 57.

[9] Brill Olcott, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus”, p. 63.

[10] Baguirov, Adil, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Basis and Reality of Soviet-era Legal and Economic Claims used to Justify the Armenia-Azerbaijan War”, Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008, pp. 9-10.

[11] Brill Olcott, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus”, p. 64.

[12] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Seven years of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, (USA: Human Rights Watch, December 1994), p. 136.

[13] McDougall, James, “A New Stage in US Caspian Sea Basin Relations”, Central Asia, Vol. 5, No. 11, 1997.

[14] Brill Olcott, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus”, p. 66.