WASHINGTON–Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon on Friday discussed Washington’s position on Russia’s increasing activity in the Nagorno-Karabkah peace process during an extensive interview with RFE/RL covering a wide-range of developments in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus.
Gordon recently returned from a trip to Russia, Poland, and Germany, and later this month will be in Lisbon for the NATO summit and NATO-Russia Council meeting.
Throughout the interview, he commented extensively on the U.S. position on everything from the jailed bloggers in Azerbaijan to Ukraine’s improving relationship with Moscow, Georgia’s right to territorial sovereignty, to Russia’s role in brokering a deal over Nagorno-Karabakh.
While discussing the Karabakh conflict, Gordon was asked whether the “United States and France [are] outsourcing their role in the OSCE’s Minsk process to Russia” and where he saw the Minsk Process going.
Gordon dismissed the notion, saying that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton “is very much focused on this issue [and has] spent a lot of time working on it with the French and Russia and with the parties, including on her trip to both countries in July.”
The US diplomat went on to add that Washington’s Minsk group negotiator, Ambassador Robert Bradtke “has spent an enormous amount of time shuttling back and forth between the countries and with the French and Russians.”
“The United States, as a Minsk Group co-chair, but also an important player in the Caucasus, has a major role to play. And we have been very focused on it because it’s a potentially dangerous situation,” he said. “There are incidents along the line of control all too frequently and we remain committed to using the Minsk Group process to get a settlement — in the absence of which you would constantly have to worry.”
Gordon argued that Washington is “very much involved” in the peace process to prevent the “isolation of the two countries” and “the potential for a conflict”
The Assistant Secretary of State also addressed Azerbaijan’s tightening grip on free speech and the press, discussing the imprisonment of independent newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev and the jailing of two Azeri bloggers on trumped-up charges of hooliganism. In 2008 the Azerbaijani government also banned RFE/RL and Voice of America broadcasts on FM frequencies.
Gordon was asked why, in light of these developments, does the United States still consider Azerbaijan “an important partner in the region” and Washington was “doing specifically to keep the pressure on President Ilham Aliyev’s government?”
According to Gordon, the United States has “addressed that issue consistently” through its embassy and “all levels of the government.”
He said the issue has been raised on his trips to Baku, as well as trips made by the deputy secretary. “We call attention to these matters and make it clear that they need to be dealt with and the bloggers should be freed, in our view,” he added.
“The president and the secretary have both raised this at the highest levels, with their interlocutors in Baku,” Gordon said, adding that the US President’s personal focus on “a matter of human rights like this” sends a “pretty important message”
According to Gordon, President Obama personally underscored the importance of the issue to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev during a meeting in New York to discuss “a wide range of strategic issues.” “We think the Azerbaijanis know that the world is paying attention, and that they should address these issues,” he said.
Throughout the interview, which can be read here in its entirety, Gordon also discussed US-Russia relations, the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the Russian-Georgian conflict over the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the deadlock in Bosnia’s reform process, Ukraine’s flawed elections and the lack of a US ambassador in Belarus.