What is the position of the US regarding the Karabakh issue?

In the early stages of the conflict, the USA formulated a more pro-Armenian policy under the influence of the powerful Armenian lobby in Congress.[1] It recognized the independence of Armenia before Azerbaijan, and Armenia was among the first five former Soviet republics where a US embassy was opened.[2] It should be also stressed that, due to the pressure exerted by the Armenian lobby on Congress, Armenia was the only Soviet republic that received aid from the US in the Soviet era in the aftermath of the earthquake in December 1988.[3] In addition, with the efforts of the Armenian lobby, the US Congress passed Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act in October 1992, which restricted direct governmental support of the US for Azerbaijan unless it changed its “aggression policy” towards Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and abandoned the blockade.[4] As a result, Azerbaijan was for a long time the only post-Soviet state that was deprived of government aid from the US, while Armenia was the highest per capita recipient.[5] Section 907 was removed from the Congress resolution and approved by the President only after September 11, 2001, when there was a challenge to global anti-terror mobility.[6] Until then, US aid to Azerbaijan was limited to only humanitarian assistance, mainly focused on refugees and IDPs.[7]

The US had two contradictory policies on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: that of Congress and the policy of the State Department.[8] Unlike Congress, the State Department preferred to follow a path of neutrality concerning the parties to the conflict and contribute to attempts to settle the conflict.[9] The State Department played, in fact, an essential role in getting the dispute on the CSCE/OSCE agenda, and the format of the negotiations was based on the principles suggested by Secretary Baker.[10] However, until the mid-1990s, the US involvement in the negotiation process was restricted, as the Transcaucasia region was outside its strategic interests. It should be highlighted that, as the Transcaucasia region was outside the strategic interests of the US, its involvement in the negotiation process was restricted until the mid-1990s. However, due to Azerbaijan’s easily reachable hydrocarbon resources and its significant geopolitical location, the interests of the US increased in the region. These factors paved the way for the US to reformulate its policy toward Azerbaijan and reconsider its position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[11] This outcome was especially true after 1994 when the energy contract called the “Deal of the century” was signed, in which US companies held 40% of the total shares of the deal. Because of these issues, the attitude towards Azerbaijan and Armenia was changed, even in Congress, and the US began to follow a neutral policy in the conflict.[12] Besides, energy companies needed stability in the region to perform their activities safely, which motivated the US to participate more actively in the mediation process. Therefore, in January 1997, the US became the third co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group, which allowed it to engage directly in the process and initiate plans for a peaceful settlement.[13] In April 2001, the US organized a meeting between the presidents of the parties to the conflict in Key West.[14] Unfortunately, the anticipated progress in resolving the conflict was not made.

After that, as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group, the US continued its efforts in talks initiated by the organization, which did not reach final peace between the parties to the conflict that engaged in the deadly war in 2020. During the Second Karabakh War and peace negotiation that parties engaged in after the Trilateral Statement of November 10, 2020, the US acted as if a neutral country in the process and called the parties to refrain from any military provocations. However, its post-war rhetoric shows that the US is siding much more the Armenian side in the process rather than playing a neutral role between the parties to encourage them to have final peace regarding the Karabakh issue. In this regard, the visit of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, to Armenia and her provocative rhetoric against Azerbaijan was considered evident proof of the US’s support for Armenia.

[1] King, David and Pomper, Miles, “The U.S. Congress and the Contingent In uence of Diaspora Lobbies: Lessons from U.S. Policy Toward Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Journal of Armenian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2004, pp. 8-10.

[2] “U.S. Relations with Armenia,” Department of State, Bureau Of European And Eurasian Affairs, 12 February 2013; https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-armenia/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.

[3] Brill Olcott, Martha, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus,” The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2002, p. 65.

[4] King and Pomper, “The U.S. Congress and the Contingent In uence of Diaspora Lobbies,” p. 10.

[5] Cornell, Svante E., “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh: A Delicate Balance,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1998, p. 58.

[6] Kotanjian, Hayk, “Armenian Security and U.S. Foreign Policy in the South Caucasus,” The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, June 2004, p. 16.

[7] Nichol, Jim, “Azerbaijan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests,” Congressional Research Service, 22 February 2013, p. 28.

[8] Cornell, “Turkey and the Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh,” p. 57.

[9] Brill Olcott, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus,” p. 63.

[10] Baguirov, Adil, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Basis and Reality of Soviet-era Legal and Economic Claims used to Justify the Armenia-Azerbaijan War,” Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008, pp. 9-10.

[11] Brill Olcott, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus,” p. 64.

[12] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Seven years of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (USA: Human Rights Watch, December 1994), p.136.

[13] McDougall, James, “A New Stage in US Caspian Sea Basin Relations,” Central Asia, Vol. 5, No. 11, 1997.

[14] Brill Olcott, “U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus,” p. 66.