Commentary: Azerbaijan a partner for economy, peace for state

By Elin Suleymanov

It’s a long way from Puget Sound to the Caspian Sea, bordering Europe and Asia and sitting astride huge reserves of oil and natural gas.

Azerbaijan, a strategically located partner of the United States in the Caspian region, is emerging as a key transportation hub along the historic Silk Road as demonstrated by Azerbaijan’s Silk Way Airlines’ recent purchase of 10 new Boeing 737-Max 8 aircraft to be built at Boeing’s plant in Renton. While offering economic opportunities and stabilizing energy supplies, Azerbaijan stands with the U.S. in struggling against terrorism and striving for a more peaceful world.

Our recent purchase helps support more than 12,000 workers at the assembly plant in Renton, which will increase production and ramp up hiring. In the highly cyclical aerospace industry, now suffering declining demand for widebody jets, Azerbaijan’s emergence as an export market for Boeing can counter pressures for further job losses, such as the recent layoffs of engineers.

This is Azerbaijan’s third major investment in Boeing aircraft. In 2015, Silk Way purchased three Boeing 747-8 freighters manufactured at Boeing’s factory in Everett, with a total of 30,000 workers. That same year, Azerbaijan Airlines — our country’s flag carrier and largest airline — acquired its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner, assembled in South Carolina. Today, Azerbaijan Airlines Dreamliner (an aircraft built in both states) connect our countries via a nonstop Baku-New York flight.

I am proud that Azerbaijan is contributing to a sector that supports some 252,800 jobs in Washington, with $21 billion in wages and nearly $95 billion in economic activity. Azerbaijan’s partnership with the United States extends far beyond buying jetliners. Bordering Iran and Russia, Azerbaijan is a trusted ally in a tough neighborhood. Within 24 hours of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Azerbaijan offered the U.S. unconditional support against terrorism, granting American military aircraft over-flights for a third of the non-lethal supplies for coalition forces, while Azerbaijani soldiers serve shoulder to shoulder with Americans in Afghanistan. We continue to cooperate with the U.S. and its allies to combat terrorism, nuclear proliferation and narcotics trafficking.

With 7 billion barrels of oil reserves and 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, Azerbaijan provides about a million barrels of oil a day to Europe, as well as 40 percent of Israel’s consumption. Through the new Southern Gas Corridor pipeline network, Azerbaijan will also bring 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe every year, securing Europe’s energy supplies while stabilizing the world economy, including air travel.

Azerbaijan’s economic potential is about much more than energy. Last year alone, the U.S. exported $434.2 million worth of products to Azerbaijan, while importing $142 million in goods, for a trade surplus of $292.2 million. American companies are exporting aircraft and heavy machinery to Azerbaijan while exploring investment opportunities in telecommunications and other non-energy sectors.

Just as important as building oil rigs, Azerbaijan is helping America and its friends build bridges to the Islamic world. As a predominantly Muslim society with a secular government, Azerbaijan is an example of pluralism and moderation, offering religious freedom for Islam, Christianity and Judaism. For 1,400 years, our Jewish community, now numbering about 30,000, has lived alongside Muslims without antagonism or persecution. In 1918, Azerbaijan became the first majority-Muslim society to recognize women’s right to vote — two years before the entire U.S. (but eight years after Washington state).

Participating in European institutions, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which brings together 56 Muslim countries, Azerbaijan promotes mutual understanding. With close ties to the U.S., Israel, the European Union and the Muslim nations, we strive to transform divisiveness into dialogue.

The next time you see an American aircraft speeding down a runway, remember that a similar jetliner may be taking off in faraway Azerbaijan. And, also taking wing, are the goals that we share for a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Elin Suleymanov is Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States.

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