President Bush welcomed the leader of Azerbaijan to the White House for talks Friday about democratic reforms and energy supplies.
The former Soviet republic has substantial oil and natural gas reserves that the Bush Administration sees as central to reducing European dependence on Russian supplies. Azerbaijan has also been an important Muslim ally in the fight against terrorism, with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the nation also has human rights and governance issues, with the U.S. State Department saying President Ilham Aliyev's administration engages in corruption, political repression, and mistreatment of prisoners.
President Bush sought to address both sides of that relationship in his Oval Office meeting with President Aliyev, thanking him for supporting U.S. military operations while pushing for further democratic reforms at home. "We talked about the need for the world to see a modern Muslim country that is able to provide for its citizens, that understands that democracy is the wave of the future, and I appreciate your leadership, Mr. President," he said.
President Aliyev has been waiting for this White House meeting since his widely criticized 2003 election. He denies allegations of corruption and vows to continue reforming Azerbaijani politics. "I consider this instrumental in the future development of Azerbaijan as a modern, secular, democratic country. We share the same values. We are grateful for United States assistance in promotion of political process, process of democratization of our society and very committed to continue that cooperation in the future," he said.
Energy was also on the agenda. A 17-hundred-kilometer long pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Georgia and Turkey is expected to bring millions of barrels of Azerbaijani crude oil to market when it comes on line later this year.
President Bush says Azerbaijan has a very important role to play in helping the world achieve energy security.
President Aliyev thanked the U.S. leader for his support. "We are very grateful for the leadership of the United States in promotion of the energy security issues in the region, in assisting us to create a solid transportation infrastructure which will allow for the development of full-scale Caspian oil and gas reserves and deliver them to the international markets," he said.
President Aliyev said the men also discussed the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been controlled for more than 10 years by its majority ethnic-Armenian population.