July 8, 2014
By Claude Salhani
A leading American energy and geopolitics expert and the Principal of International Market Analysis, a natural resources advisory company, Ariel Cohen spoke to Trend regarding several topical issues, including the U.S.-Azerbaijan relations, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, recent developments in Iraq and Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
U.S.-Azerbaijan relations are undergoing difficulties, according to Cohen.
“I am very disappointed. I was following up these relations and sometimes played a certain role in them for a very long time, for over 20 years,” Cohen told Trend on July 8.
He said the U.S. played a key role in making “the Project of the Twentieth Century” happen, which resulted in the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
Cohen also added that the U.S. used Azerbaijan as a transshipment point for the northern distribution network during the war in Afghanistan.
He noted that the U.S. recognized, at least for a while, the role of Azerbaijan as a secular Muslim republic, to compete with and oppose the Iranian model.
“Now it is all disintegrating in front of my eyes, unfortunately,” Cohen stressed.
He said mistakes were made on both sides, adding that particularly the Obama administration’s attempt to deny geopolitics, thinking that Russia can “take care of the region” is a mistake.
“To say that Iran may provide answers in the fight against radical Islamist violent groups is naive at least. This is like hoping to abolish gravity,” Cohen said.
He also added that the U.S. forgets that Iran as a Shia power cannot provide answers in the fight against Sunni radicalism especially when it is aimed at the American homeland or Europe or for that matter the Gulf States, who will never accept Iran as provider of security on the level of the United States.
France’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process
Cohen expressed hope that France, Germany and Great Britain would step in and start taking care of the neighborhood, not just Nagorno-Karabakh.
He believes that not only Azerbaijan, but also Georgia is embattled.
“All the Europeans across the board, the Germans, the French and others do not want to jeopardize their relations with Russia,” Cohen stressed. “It became very clear at the recent Georgian Security Conference in Batumi and elsewhere.
“And because Russia is Armenia’s senior partner, to put it mildly, in order to reach an agreement that would be acceptable for Azerbaijan, the Europeans need to get out of their comfort zone vis-à-vis Moscow. And when you are trying to sell four Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia you are not going to jeopardize that transaction over the conflict in the far-away Karabakh,” he added.
Cohen said this is a long answer to a simple question.
“No, I don’t expect the French to punch above their weight here and to bring about a miraculous resolution to something that Washington and Moscow, when they had a much better relationship, failed to reach,” he stressed.
Iran’s nuclear program
Speaking of Iran’s nuclear program, Cohen said that a few months ago he would have said the U.S. strategically was not giving up their demand that Iran does not become a threshold state.
“Maybe not to have a working weapon, but to be three month away from assembling it,” Cohen explained.
Cohen said that things have changed in the last few months because the U.S. is seeking a rapprochement with Iran and may agree to more concessions regarding the Iranian nuclear program, hoping that Iran may provide the balance to the radical Sunni threat.
Involving Iran in southern Iraq, “I think is a realistic expectation, beyond that, unless we want to expect Iran to go to the Sunni areas. To this the Saudis, other Gulf States and Turkey will all be vehemently opposed, and what has a potential of becoming a global jihadi issue to fight the Shia brethren,” Cohen stressed.
“This may be pouring gasoline on a fire in order to try and extinguish it,” Cohen said.
Situation in Iraq
“The division between Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is similar to the one between Stalin and Trotsky (with al-Baghdadi being Trotsky),” Cohen said touching upon the situation in Iraq.
He said the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” organization started with a very ambitious agenda, which included their famous map.
“It includes Vienna, and all the Balkans and Russia up to and beyond Chechnya, the north Caucasus; Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia beyond Chechnya, and even the Andalus, (Spain), so it is a threat not only in an Osama-like global terrorism way, but also we may be for all intense and purposes looking at multi-century conflict, unless those under threat nip it in the bud” Cohen concluded.
Ariel Cohen, PhD, is Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Principal, International Market Analysis Ltd, a political risk advisory, and Director, Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security