Obama administration offended key national security ally in Azerbaijan

Government insiders in Azerbaijan, a key U.S. national security ally bordering Iran, were left surprised and bewildered after the Obama administration disparaged the nation’s recent election.

Incumbent Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev was re-elected Oct. 9 with a majority of the vote over rivals Jamil Hasanli and Iqbal Agazade.

Deputy U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf released a statement Oct. 10, the day after the election, criticizing the legitimacy of the Azerbaijani election.

“The United States continuously urged the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure a free and fair electoral process and to respect the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech. It is with regret that we conclude this election fell short of international standards,” according to the State Department statement, which cited Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) findings on the election.

Harf noted “ballot box stuffing,” “serious problems with vote counting,” and “failure to record the number of received ballots” as well as interference with the media and civil society and interruption of rallies as cause for concern, while also noting favorable steps taken by the government to register opposition candidates and authorizing opposition rallies and the presence of international election monitors.

Aliyev’s government is a key strategic U.S. ally bordering Iran and Russia. The country provided troops and other support to aide the U.S. War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Azerbaijan feels bewildered by the Obama administration’s statement.

The Obama administration released far more positive statements following recent elections in Iran and Russia, in which similar fairness concerns were raised.

“We admire the courage of the Iranian people who went to the polls and made their voices heard in a rigidly controlled environment that sought to limit freedom of expression and assembly. We remain concerned about the lack of transparency in the electoral process, and the attempts to censor members of the media, the internet, and text messages. Despite these challenges, however, the Iranian people have clearly expressed their desire for a new and better future,” Secretary of State John Kerry said June 15 after Iranian elections.

“President-elect Rouhani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to restore and expand freedoms for all Iranians. In the months ahead, he has the opportunity to keep his promises to the Iranian people. We, along with our international partners, remain ready to engage directly with the Iranian government,” Kerry said.