U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said U.S. policy toward the South Caucasus is “to help the nations of this region travel along the same path toward freedom, democracy and market-based economies that so many of their neighbors to the West have traveled.”
Speaking to the U.S. House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary Fried said the U.S. believes that the ultimate place of these nations, which are part of wider Europe, ought to depend on their own choice and their own success, or lack of success, in meeting the standards of democracy, the rule of law, and responsible foreign and regional policies that the transatlantic community has established. The U.S., he said, does not believe “that any outside power – neither Russian nor any other – should have a sphere of influence over these countries; no outside power should be able to threaten, pressure, or block the sovereign choice of these nations to join with the institutions of Europe and the transatlantic family if they so choose and we so choose.”
Assistant Secretary Fried noted that Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are ancient nations but still new as nation states. “They are navigating a double transition,” he said. “They must throw off the failed communist institutions of the past and build new ones to replace them, including in many cases entirely new systems – such as modern banking and financial systems to support their newly free economies – where none existed before.”
The U.S. welcomes Azerbaijan’s progress on security cooperation and diversification of energy supplies and values Azerbaijan’s troop contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the U.S. remains concerned about a lag in democratic reforms in Azerbaijan, including respect for fundamental freedoms.
The U.S. supports Armenia’s regional integration. A major step in this regard would be the peaceful, just, and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Achieving normal relations between Armenia and Turkey is another U.S. concern. But Armenia’s greatest challenge is to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes, including respect for human rights.
Georgia has made progress, but it too is challenged with building strong democratic institutions and processes to match its commitment to economic and commercial reform. Assistant Secretary Fried said the U.S. will continue to be steadfast and supportive of the advance of democracy and freedom in the South Caucasus region.