Armenian News-NEWS.am presents excerpts of the article by Joshua Kutcher posted on EurasiaNet.org.
The U.S. State Department is considering allowing a sale of military equipment to Azerbaijan, which is considered necessary to help protect against Iran. But Washington's Armenian-American lobby and its allied members of Congress are objecting, arguing that it could be used against Armenians in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
It has not been identified what equipment it is, but it is some sort of military equipment that would be installed in Mi-35M attack helicopters that Azerbaijan has lately been acquiring from Russia. The State Department and Azerbaijan are stating that the equipment is to be used by Azerbaijan's border service.
However Armenian groups mistrust this statement. Congressman Howard Berman wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the equipment could be used against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The part of U.S. law that limits arms transfers to Azerbaijan, known as Section 907, includes a provision that allows the Secretary of State to waive the restrictions if a transfer ‘is important for Azerbaijan's border security’. Without knowing more about which equipment specifically talk is about, it is hard to say what it most likely would be used for. But the Azerbaijani appeal is an interesting one, focusing so heavily on the threat from Iran. This was something notable on The Bug Pit's recent visit to Baku, how government officials repeatedly emphasized the threat from Iran. A cynic would say that Baku is ginning up the threat to gain Western sympathy, and possibly concrete support like arms sales. But it's also true that Iran has been rhetorically aggressive recently, and that Azerbaijan's strategic interests in the Caspian are potentially threatened by Iran. So what may be happening is that Baku sees an opening, while the world is concerned about Iran, to dovetail its strategic interests with those of the U.S. and others who distrust Iran.
Anyway, the issue for both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides seems to be less about the particular equipment and more about whether Azerbaijan should be isolated because of Karabakh or more closely embraced by the West. Berman's letter alluded to the ‘message that such a sale would send to the regional parties’, and Adil Baguirov of the U.S. Azeri Network told The Bug Pit, Azerbaijan wants a concrete symbol of support from the West.
In that, the situation seems similar to those of Georgia and Uzbekistan, which are also seeking U.S. military equipment less because of the equipment itself but more because of the symbolic value. Will that appeal work for Azerbaijan?