WASHINGTON (Reuter)–Azeri President Gaidar Aliyev signed an investment treaty with the United States on Friday in his first visit to the White House as commercial ties and $8 billion in oil deals took center stage over efforts to help settle Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia.
President Bill Clinton was not swayed by Armenia’s supporters in Congress who this week questioned whether the United States could be a neutral mediator in the conflict over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh while promoting stronger links with oil-rich Azerbaijan.
In a three-hour visit to the White House–Aliyev and Clinton signed an investment treaty–and Vice President Al Gore and Aliyev witnessed the signing of four big new Caspian Sea oil production contracts.
Aliyev said the deals–involving US oil giants Exxon Corp.–Chevron Corp.–Mobil Corp. and Amoco Corp.–were worth $8 billion in investment
"We laid down the foundation for future expansion of our economic relations," Aliyev told reporters after his talks with Clinton.
The bilateral investment treaty guarantees the free transfer of capital and profits between the United States and the former Soviet republic–and protects investmen’s from being confiscated without compensation.
The lure of massive oil reserves in the Caspian spurred the United States also to sign an agreement with Azerbaijan to cooperate on energy development and export issues.
Aliyev said the next step to improving economic relations would be the lifting of a five-year-old ban on U.S. economic aid to the Azeri government–which Clinton said he would try to repeal.
Congress imposed the embargo to punish Azerbaijan for its economic blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
House and Senate lawmakers are looking to ease the ban by allowing aid to support democracy-building in Azerbaijan but are unlikely to lift the whole ban due to pressure from a strong Armenian-American lobby.
A joint statement by Clinton and Aliyev after their meeting said Aliyev endorsed a recent proposal by Russia–France and the United States that under any settlement–Azerbaijan must give the highest degree of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh and guarantee the security of Armenia’s and minorities in Nagorno-Karabakh–and Azerbaijan and Armenia must respect each other’s borders.