AJC Delegation Visits Azerbaijan; Meets with President Aliyev

BAKU—A leadership delegation from the American Jewish Committee, a major US Jewish lobby group, concluded on Tuesday a two-day visit to Azerbaijan.

The 11-member group met for an hour with President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday at his seaside residence outside Baku, the nation’s capital. Just prior to the meeting with the AJC, President Aliyev welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the estate.

The group also met with Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vaqif Sadiqov, Speaker of the Parliament Oktay Asadov, Israeli Ambassador Michael Lavon-Lotem, outgoing American Charge d’Affaires Donald Lu, incoming Charge d’Affaires Adam Sterling, and other officials.

The visit was given significant media coverage in Azerbaijan and on the country’s international television station, which broadcasts in Russian, Farsi and other languages.

This was AJC’s second trip to Baku in the past two years. The earlier visit took place in August 2008. In January 2008, AJC met privately with President Aliyev at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At that time, the Azerbaijani leader invited AJC to pay a visit Baku.

“Azerbaijan is a critically important country,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “We were delighted to be there at the same time as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a month after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, underscoring Washington’s deep interest.”

“It is important for Americans to understand the key role that Azerbaijan today plays in our nation’s counter-terrorism efforts, energy security, and military operations in Afghanistan,” added Harris. “And Jews and friends of Israel need to be aware of the long and rich history of the Jewish community in Azerbaijan, and of the country’s close and mutually beneficial ties with Israel.”

In the course of the extensive conversations, Azerbaijani officials shared their strong interest in resolving the long-standing conflict over territory occupied by Armenia for more than 15 years and their frustration with the efforts to date. For its part, AJC raised concerns about the Iranian nuclear program and support for international terrorism. Azerbaijan shares a 350-mile border with Iran to its south. Iran was widely reported to have been involved in a foiled plot two years ago to attack Israeli diplomats in Baku.

“We were very warmly and graciously received by our Azerbaijani hosts,” Harris said. “Given the importance we attach to Azerbaijan, we shall look forward to our next visit and to frequent contact in between.”

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