I had never met Heydar Aliyev in the Soviet time, but I had certainly heard about him. During my work in the White House I got especially interested in the Soviet system and I had connection with Soviet leaders. I knew Heydar Aliyev was one of the leading figures in the Soviet leadership and his name was at some point speculated as the next Secretary General of the party. I knew he had extensive political experience.
I met with President Heydar Aliyev during my visit to the region for the first time in the early 1990s. I was the special envoy of President Clinton to Heydar Aliyevt. At that time he was under tremendous pressure of Russia to rely only on the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline and not to take part in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
I visited Baku with my spouse. My meeting with Heydar Aliyev took place in the second half of the day. I was impatient as I needed to deliver US President`s special message and special letter. In the evening we had a long and historical discussion. We spoke not only about the pipeline, but also about the President`s commitment to US strategic responsibilities in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea basin. It was a very fruitful discussion as it enabled to clarify long-term liabilities related to the pipeline of economic and strategic importance to both countries.
As for Heydar Aliyev`s personality, let me say that my wife admires him. This is a very important barometer for me. I think that he also likes my wife. I don`t mind as it is a normal sign. Heydar Aliyev is a politically solid, intelligent and undisputed leader.
The USA and Azerbaijan faced a number of challenges in the early stages of their relations. Neither of us has eliminated them entirely. We have not fully developed comprehensive strategic relationship with Azerbaijan. The Congress opposition on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the Armenian electorate in the USA are among the reasons. Another reason is our interest in building good relations with Russia. Azerbaijan also faces difficulties: it needs to take a lot of measures to establish full democracy. There is progress in this direction. But I think the US-Azerbaijani relations have made significant progress to overcome the difficulties.
Heydar Aliyev did a lot to strengthen Azerbaijan`s position in the international arena. No one can fully evaluate the efficiency of his work in building political stability. The future will show it, because Azerbaijan`s political system is now in its initial development stage.
Heydar Aliyev`s historic visit to the United States helped to create a true partnership between the two countries. The Americans are beginning to believe more and more that Azerbaijan`s independence and strategic importance are essential not only for the region, but for the United States as well. Azerbaijan`s economic progress, which has become thanks to Heydar Aliyev`s wise policy is obvious. Thus, we can predict bright the future for Azerbaijan. It seems to me that Azerbaijan`s population has the right to be optimistic about its future. International economic relations carried out at President Heydar Aliyev`s initiative and under his leadership will bring prosperity and happiness to the Azerbaijani people.