Caspian Policy Center Holds Discussion on the Biden Administration’s Path Forward in the Greater Caspian Region
Current and former U.S. government representatives and academics discussed the ways the Biden administration can chart the best path forward in Central Asia and the South Caucasus in light of geo-strategic trends and developments that have occurred in the region over the past four years.
Washington, D.C. — TODAY, the Caspian Policy Center (CPC) hosted a panel of experts to discuss the steps the Biden administration can take in its diplomatic engagement with the Greater Caspian region and the roadmap the CPC has developed for a more stable and prosperous region aligned with the United States’ interests. The webinar was held in conjunction with the release of CPC’s “Six Recommendations for the Biden Administration’s Caspian Policy” brief.
“Often targets of ambitious neighboring powers seeking greater influence, leverage, and advantage, countries on both sides of the Caspian Sea generally look for active, visible, and constructive engagement by the U.S. government as well as by American private-sector and academic institutions,” said Efgan Nifti, Chief Executive Officer of the CPC.
Six weeks into Joe Biden’s presidency, his administration is in the midst of developing its foreign policy, including towards the Caspian region.
George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, delivered keynote remarks during the discussion highlighting the importance of the U.S. strategic interests in supporting democratic, prosperous, and secure countries in the South Caucasus.
“Overshadowed by the ongoing pandemic and the outbreak of the fall conflict, the Southern Gas Corridor was completed under budget and on time, with the final Trans Adriatic Pipeline segment to Italy completed in December 2021. The United States and the EU’s sustained support for this multinational public-private partnership was part of our long-term goal to improve European energy security and diversify gas supplies to Europe, ” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent. “In January, Azerbaijan signed an MOU with Turkmenistan on joint exploration of hydrocarbons in the Caspian. This breakthrough, after years of impasse, has the potential to lead to greater connectivity between the existing energy infrastructure spanning the South Caucasus and the significant hydrocarbon resources of the Greater Caspian Basin. This initiative could be a game-changer – with rational, economic self-interest overcoming long-standing hurdles to an interdependent regional network. Talks of cross-Caspian trade, previously hostage to the disagreement between the Caspian littoral states, have begun in earnest. The most recent announcement was planned to expand Kazakhstan’s Port Aktau to enable the export of goods to Azerbaijan, and onwards to Turkey and Europe. The U.S. is committed to working with the countries of the Greater Caspian Region to create the conditions needed to unlock greater private investment, combat corruption, and secure nations’ autonomy from foreign malign influence. We will continue to promote transparency, openness, rule of law, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. It is worth emphasizing that a just system with integrity benefits both a country’s citizens and foreign investors who can create jobs driving prosperity and growth at home so that citizens don’t need to look for opportunities abroad.”
Dr. Roger Kangas, Academic Dean and Professor at the National Defense University, moderated an insightful conversation among the webinar participants on current and future U.S. foreign policy in the Caspian region and suggestions for the new U.S. administration to heighten its engagement with the region.
“What has heightened interest, and what I think we’ll start to see in the new administration, is the framework of great power competition,” said Dr. Kangas.
The panelists, Ambassador (ret.) Richard Hoagland, Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for South and Central Asian Affairs; Ambassador (ret.) Robert Cekuta, Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Energy Resources; and Brianne Todd, Assistant Professor at the National Defense University, discussed diversifying economic and political engagements of the U.S. with the regional actors in the Caspian region.
“I can assure you that perception is reality, and if there is a perception that American interests have waned in this strategic region, the crossroads between Asia and Europe, then we have a clear task before us. The best way that the Biden administration and the Blinken State Department can repair the image of the U.S. in the Caspian region is with high-profile visits,” said Ambassador Hoagland. “I strongly urge the officials of the region, the U.S. companies with major investment in the region, and foreign policy analysts on both sides of the Atlantic to make concerted and persistent efforts to lobby the Biden administration to make regular, high-profile visits to the region.”
“The economies of the region have been slammed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we the United States should engage with the Caspian countries to help them get back on their feet,” said Ambassador Cekuta.
“Our relationship with Central Asia is concrete. Those relationships will be there regardless of what happens with Afghanistan,” said Ms. Todd. “Even with Afghanistan, regardless of what happens militarily, our relationship is enduring.”
Most countries in the Caspian region have adopted a multi-vector foreign policy, which seeks to diversify economic and political engagements with other regional actors and great powers to counterbalance dependence on any singular relationship. The speakers suggested that the Biden administration boost its support for the Caspian Region to counterbalance rapidly growing Chinese involvement in the region and for post-pandemic recovery efforts to strengthen the resilience of regional economies against future crises.
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ABOUT CASPIAN POLICY CENTER
The Caspian Policy Center (CPC) is an independent, nonprofit research think tank based in Washington D.C. Economic, political, energy, and security issues of the Caspian region constitute the central research focus of the Center. CPC aims at becoming a primary research and debate platform in the Caspian region with relevant publications, events, projects, and media productions to nurture a comprehensive understanding of the intertwined affairs of the Caspian region.
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