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Question: Alakbar bey, why was Azerbaijan not invited to the Democracy Summit?

Answer: Officials in Washington are generally reluctant to talk about countries that have not been invited to the upcoming summit. In fact, this is the answer to your question...

The logic and strategy behind the administration's approach to the upcoming summit are that the invited countries must be willing to put certain proposals on the table in their examples, including to prepare for new challenges and to make concrete commitments. The main priority is given to states with democratic policies and institutions. The goal is not only for the leaders not to feel alienated from the club but also for the "birthday" of the history of democratic development in their countries from the very beginning, not from scratch - i.e. from December 9-10, when the summit will be held (by the way, the choice of International Human Rights Day for the summit is noteworthy).

When it comes to commitments, there are three important areas: protection from authoritarianism; fight against corruption; and promoting respect for human rights at home and abroad. Biden's team understands that these commitments are needed first and foremost for the United States itself such that the weakening of democracy at home in recent years has also had a significant impact on its role in global politics. Therefore, if we apply the historical motto of the great Atatürk to the present day, we can characterize the approach of the White House to the upcoming summit with the slogan " Peace at home, peace in the world."

As for Azerbaijan, unfortunately, the government has not set a concrete example in recent years to claim democratic opening in the country. Officials in Baku have not even shown little interest in dialogue with the West in this regard. At the same time, they preferred to isolate themselves from the ranks of representative democracies. It is true that government lobbyists in the West have occasionally cited statements in the name of democratic reform, even speeches at the level of the head of state; however, at the same time, officials in Baku have taken it upon themselves to reprimand Western politicians whenever possible.

Thus, right or wrong - there is an impression that the metaphor or appetite necessary for the participation of the Azerbaijani government in the upcoming summit was not enough not only in Washington but also in Baku itself. Therefore, sending such an invitation to the leadership of Azerbaijan would, in fact, be news for many in both capitals, including, perhaps, for the invitees themselves.

Question: The invitation of Armenia to the summit, the exclusion of Azerbaijan and Turkey from this invitation are described by the state media as the approach of the United States with double standards. Do you really think there is an approach with double standards? Is it possible that the United States wants to threaten and punish Azerbaijan and Turkey with the weapon of democracy by using democracy as a long-range weapon? Or are the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments the reason for the absence of this invitation?

Answer: Familiar rhetoric. In fact, it is President Biden's exclusivity that makes the Democracy Summit attractive - for the first time, the United States is meeting with invited countries specifically to discuss this issue... In recent years, the countries you mentioned - I would include Russia as well - have offered Washington a dialogue on all other issues, except this one.

On the other hand, in the opinion of US officials, the agenda of democracy and human rights in relations with partner countries is not limited to the upcoming Democracy Summit, they also referred to the behavior of these countries within the OSCE. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey paralyzed the activities of the OSCE in this direction in 2020 by blocking the appointment of several important posts in the organization for several months, including the Media Coordinator and the Head of the Office for Democratic Institutions. Russia went a step further this fall, blocking the annual summit organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Armenia did not take part in any of the above-mentioned behaviors.

On the other hand, paradoxically, in private conversations, most pro-Caucasian experts see Armenia's invitation to the Democracy Summit not as an "anti-Azerbaijani" or "double standard" but as a step in the direction of regional peace. Of course, I would like Azerbaijan to have the opportunity to participate in this event in any form - at least at the level of civil society. The establishment of long-term peace in the South Caucasus depends on the democratic development of the countries of the region. The fact that this train does not bypass our region is more important than the fact that someone gets on the train faster...

Question: Is it possible that Russia's presence in the region and its rapprochement with Turkey played a big role in the absence of Turkey in this invitation?

Answer: NATO member Turkey remains a key US ally in the region. The Russian factor is certainly remembered in bilateral talks at the Pentagon and elsewhere but I do not think it will have a direct impact on the decision on the Democracy Summit.

As for the real reasons, I would like to draw your attention to only one episode - the rhetoric that the Turkish leadership may consider Western diplomats, including the US ambassador, persona non grata, for a recent statement on human rights. Unfortunately, with these and similar examples, Ankara was expected to be estranged from the table of democracy, and although it was, as the Americans said, “a hard pill to swallow”, officials in Ankara, Moscow, and Baku had to learn this simple reality with such difficulty...

Question: There is still time. Is it possible that Azerbaijan will be invited to the summit by then?

Answer:  The summit to be held on December 9-10 is only the initial stage of the process, and the list of countries to participate in it has already been leaked to the media; its authenticity has not been denied by the organizers. Although it does not happen this time, Azerbaijan should not miss the opportunity to join the marathon in the next year and coming years, of course, if such an opportunity arises and Baku is interested in it… In any case, the resumption of open dialogue between the two countries in democracy is more important than ever.

Unfortunately, the general public has only superficial information about the contacts that have taken place between Baku and Washington in recent weeks - first visits from the Department of State, and then meetings of a group of Azerbaijani parliamentarians sent to the United States. Keeping the media, especially independent journalists, away from these contacts significantly undermines the importance of the case.

If officials in Baku hope to continue contacts "according to the old rules," they must sometimes think seriously about the success rate.

Question: On the one hand, the United States does not invite Azerbaijan to the Democracy Summit; on the other hand, it continues economic and political cooperation. How do we understand this?

Answer: It is an important question, although officials in Washington do not see a special contrast between the two behaviors.

The point is that, whether it invited a country to the summit or not, the United States usually has experience in cooperating with countries that are lagging behind in the field of democracy in various fields, provided that these countries do not pose a threat to international security and democracy.

On the eve of the summit, one of the most debated topics among experts in Washington was, in fact, this topic: how the United States should deal with countries that have been left out of the process or, as they say, "failed to pass"?

First of all, when analyzing the semi-democratic and non-democratic countries that were invited to the summit, we can conclude that The Biden administration prefers one-party regimes, such as Singapore, to military and "iron fist" regimes dominated by the cult of personality… Although it is authoritarian, the regime in this country has a legitimate, developmental, and international status quo.

Question: What steps should be taken to make Azerbaijan on the list of first invitees at summits like this? Or does it not matter to us at all?

Answer: The significance of the summit and whether it will yield any results are, of course, the subject of another day. At the White House, presidential aides are still setting the agenda for the upcoming event, and the process is going on in almost complete secrecy.

From the discussions in the corridors, it is clear that along with the official staff of about 100 countries, speakers from civil society were also invited. In addition to the main session, discussions will continue on several topics. This will include the three topics I mentioned earlier - anti-corruption, human rights, and the fight against authoritarianism - as well as auxiliary topics (subtopics). For example, the expansion of media freedom, the lifting of bans due to the pandemic, specific anti-corruption reforms, and so on.

Leaders must make commitments on these issues in their speeches, and thus create a roadmap for the next summit - to be held in late 2022. They must also establish mechanisms to implement their commitments to the development of civil society in their countries. Adoption of national action plans will be one of the important directions here.

In view of all this, if Azerbaijan wants to be on the list of invitees at such summits in the future, it must first do its "homework" on its own initiative and be more prepared for the process - not only to attend the summit but also to use the opportunity to change the situation in the country for the better...

In other words, sometimes it is useful to buy a lottery ticket to win the lottery.

Kamran Mahmudov

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