Obama administration offended key national security ally in Azerbaijan

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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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.

“We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard.  Yesterday’s election took place against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly. However, despite these government obstacles and limitations, the Iranian people were determined to act to shape their future,” said a June 15 White House Office of the Press Secretary statement.

“It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians. The United States remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” according to the White House statement.

“The United States congratulates the Russian people on the completion of the Presidential elections, and looks forward to working with the President-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a March 5, 2012 statement following Vladimir Putin’s election to a third non-consecutive presidential term in Russia.

“We note the statement by the head of delegation for PACE that the election had a clear winner with an absolute majority. We also note, however, the OSCE’s concerns about the conditions under which the campaign was conducted, the partisan use of government resources, and procedural irregularities on election day, among other issues. We urge the Russian Government to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations. … We are encouraged to see so many Russian citizens voting, monitoring voting in their local precincts, exercising their constitutional right to free assembly, and expressing their views peacefully about the political and electoral processes,” Nuland’s statement read.

The State Department doubled down on its position on Azerbaijan’s elections.

“We made our views clear on the elections. We note the electoral process does not end on voting day. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to conduct a just, transparent, and credible investigation of all reported electoral violations and implement the recommendations made in ODIHR’s final report,” State Department spokesperson Nicole Thompson told The Daily Caller.

“We are in direct contact in Baku and in Washington with the Government of Azerbaijan on the elections and the full spectrum of issues related to the bilateral relationship,” Thompson said.

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