WASHNIGTON–Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spoke on the House floor Tuesday in opposition to positioning US bases in Azerbaijan–as senior Azeri officials have called for in recent weeks. The full text of his floor statement follows. I rise today to draw the attention of the Members of this House and the American people to a potentially alarming development in our foreign policy. As was reported in this Sunday’s New York Times–the Republic of Azerbaijan has made what the newspaper called a startling offer. It wants the United States to open a military base there. The article notes that American oil companies have invested billions of dollars in Azerbaijan–and the New York Times also makes a particularly relevant point that such a partnership might draw the United States into alliances with undemocratic governmen’s.
This story has also been picked up by Reuters and the Journal of Commerce–among other media outlets–and while the State Department and Defense Department denied plans to construct a military base in Azerbaijan or to move an existing facility from the Republic of Turkey into Azerbaijan–unnamed US officials were mentioned in press accounts as not ruling out the need for an undefined arrangement to ensure the security of a future pipeline to deliver oil from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish oil depot at Ceyhan.
Mr. Speaker–I cannot imagine a worse idea. While I strongly support new approaches to US international engagement in the post-cold war world–this proposal would not advance US interests or American values. The only justification for this proposal is to make US foreign policy and our military forces a tool for protecting a new and–I would say–unproven supply of oil–and to try to placate the two countries that are deemed essential to the extraction and delivery of those oil supplies; that is–Turkey and Azerbaijan; two countries–I might add–with terrible records in terms of democracy and human rights.
Mr. Speaker–for some time now I have been critical of what I view as the administration’s apparent determination to see the pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan constructed. Ironically–the oil companies themselves are balking at this arrangement. The proposed pipeline is too long and costly–particularly as oil prices continue to drop. One major international consortium led by the American firm–Pennzoil–has announced that it will terminate its test drilling operations in the Caspian near Baku after finding only half the volume of oil and gas necessary to assure profitable exploitation.
Today the Wall Street Journal reports that another group led by Amoco and BP is cutting personnel and deferring development on Caspian oil exploitation due to disappointing test results and declining oil prices.
It is becoming apparent that the new pipeline proposal lacks commercial viability. It is a boondoggle whose only purpose is to placate the deman’s of Turkey and Azerbaijan–to give those two countries the power and prestige of controlling what some see as an important source of energy resources. And now apparently Azerbaijan craves the further benefits of a US military commitment–and some unnamed US officials are apparently toying with this idea.
Mr. Speaker–this week I will be circulating a letter among my colleagues asking them to join me in making it clear to President Clinton–Secretary of State Albright and Secretary of Defense Cohen that we consider a US military presence or commitment in Azerbaijan unacceptable.
And yes–Mr. Speaker–the administration is right to identify the Caucasus region as an important American interest–but it is wrong to make oil the major–not only the only basis for our engagement in that region–and I hope we can stop this train before it leaves the station.