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Next US president to take into account Azerbaijan’s growing influence (EXCLUSIVE)

Jill Dougherty

(Trend) – The next US president will take into account the growing influence of Azerbaijan, Jill Dougherty, CNN’s former Moscow Bureau Chief and now an independent expert on Russia, said in an exclusive interview with Trend.

The expert said that Azerbaijan has close relations with the West and the likely winner of the U.S. election will continue that approach.

“The candidates are unlikely to be specific about their views on the South Caucasus but they will be forced to address issues of oil and energy,” Dougherty said. “Azerbaijan’s influence is growing, especially in the context of a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline.”

“Russia opposes the gas pipeline construction but, according to some media reports, NATO is considering providing some protection for the project,” she said.

Dougherty said that Iran’s likely increased exports of oil and gas will help to keep prices low and that helps the US and hurts Russia so most candidates are likely to support that.

“It is too early to say who will win the November, 2016 election,” the expert said. “On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the likely candidate. On the Republican side, there are now 16 candidates and the party is having difficulty coming up with a candidate who can please both the vocal conservatives and the more mainstream elements.”

“Foreign policy will be more of an issue in this election that it has been previously,” Dougherty said. “The Iran nuclear deal and Russia’s role in Ukraine are just two of the hot-button issues in which Republicans are likely to attack the Democratic candidate.”

Dougherty said that it also is premature to say what the foreign policy priorities of the candidates will be but, in general, the Republicans are likely to criticize the deal with Iran as “appeasement” and Clinton will support it, although she will likely urge the U.S. to be cautious in making sure Iran adheres to the deal.

“The nuclear deal means that Iran’s international and regional role will increase,” the expert said. “Just making the deal itself increased the prestige of Iran and Tehran will be free to export more oil and gas. The US also sees Iran as a potential partner in fighting ISIS. Washington, however, is concerned about Iran’s role in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.”

The expert said that President Obama will fight to defend the nuclear agreement with Iran and Republican presidential candidates will try to depict him as naive, selling out the interests of the US and Israel.

“Some regional powers, like Saudi Arabia, feel less secure about American protection and the US is trying to convince them that the deal will not weaken US support for their security,” she said.

Dougherty said that normalizing relations between the US and Iran is a far more complicated challenge than reaching a nuclear deal – and that required years of complex negotiations.

“The essential issue for the US is: can it trust Iran not only to adhere to the agreement but also to stop what US officials call its “malign influence” in the region, especially using proxies like Hezbollah,” she said.

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