The US authorities are suspected in secret deals with Azerbaijan.
The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) turned out to bear the cost of the US Congressmen trip to Baku for a conference on the future of US-Azerbaijan relations. The expenses made up nearly $750,000 and have been reported to include such souvenirs as "silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs". The Office of Congressional Ethics looked into the matter.
SOCAR may have been seeking an exemption from US sanctions on Iran over a natural gas pipeline in the Caspian Sea. Shortly after the conference attended by the members of Congress, President Obama signed into law sanctions on Iran, and the law included language exempting SOCAR.
Back in the 1990s, the Clinton administration heavily backed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which connected Caspian Sea oil to the international market.
The US Ambassador Richard Morningstar explained that the Clinton administration wanted to peel away the countries in the Caucuses from Russian influence, and head off potential pipeline connections through Iran. The US government provided financing options and heavy political support to get the pipeline built. It began operation in 2006 and has since carried more than 2 billion barrels of oil to the Mediterranean coast in Turkey.
Although by no means a top priority for the Obama administration, Azerbaijan is still a security ally in the region. The Obama administration sent special State Department envoy Amos Hochstein to Greece in early May to convince the Greek government to back a proposed pipeline to connect Azerbaijani natural gas to Western Europe. The American supported pipeline is in a race against Russia's Turkish Stream pipeline, which would connect Russian gas to Western Europe by running beneath the Black Sea and through Turkey and Greece.
The western-backed pipeline is actually two pipelines - one section that runs from Azerbaijan through Turkey, and another that picks up in Greece and runs to Southern Italy. SOCAR is a major shareholder in both.
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