NEWS | Nov. 18, 2016

Azerbaijan ambassador visits Oklahoma; looks to strengthen partnerships

By 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch Oklahoma National Guard

OKLAHOMA CITY – Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United States, Elin Suleymanov, and his team made their way through the Oklahoma City metro area this week, visiting with top Oklahoma leaders and energy research engineers in order to establish relationships and strengthen partnerships that mutually benefit both nations.

Suleymanov met with Dr. Carol Jones, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering professor with Oklahoma State University, Maj. Gen. Robbie Asher, adjutant general for Oklahoma, Todd Lamb, lieutenant governor for Oklahoma, professors from the University of Oklahoma's energy department, Senator James Lankford and research engineers with General Electric's (GE) Global Research as part of the State Partnership Program (SPP). The visit focused primarily on issues each face, ways to strengthen relationships and their hopes for the future.

"Having the Azerbaijan ambassador visit Oklahoma regularly is critical to maintaining the strength of our civil-military relationship," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Mitchell, director of the SPP for Oklahoma. "As the voice of Azerbaijan in the United States, Amb. Suleymanov gives us a privileged opportunity to hear firsthand the needs and wants of Azerbaijan and then fine tune our partnership missions in the coming months and years in order to better develop the partnership capacity."

On Sunday evening, Suleymanov met with Dr. Jones, where they spoke of Jones' two previous trips to Azerbaijan and made suggestions for their nation's future agricultural endeavors.

During Suleymanov's meeting with Lamb, they also focused on agriculture and how Azeris wish to improve their agricultural industry, as well as continue the SPP with Oklahoma.

"The Oklahoma agriculture sector could be extremely useful," Suleymanov said. "We want to strengthen our relationship and deepen it."

The SPP, administered by the National Guard Bureau and guided by State Department foreign policy goals, began in 1991 from the European Command (EUCOM) and has since evolved where it now maintains more than 70 security partnerships involving 76 nations across the world.

"The program focuses on enhancing combatant commanders' ability to establish enduring civil-military relationships that improve long-term international security while building partnership capacity across all levels of society," Mitchell said.

Pairing countries with National Guard states is a complex process that involves a multitude of variables, all of which are decided by the Secretary of Defense and the State Department. In the end, the decision is based primarily on which states in the U.S. best match with other nations, and vice versa.

In Oklahoma and Azerbaijan's case, the match (established in 2002) came due to the fact that they align economically in four areas: energy, aviation, agriculture, and medical care and public health.

One of the benefits for Azeris and their partnership with Oklahoma is Oklahoma's centralized location in the U.S., which provides endless opportunities for energy and geological research.

With energy in mind, Suleymanov and his team toured the University of Oklahoma's premier energy research facility at the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering in Norman, Oklahoma, where they learned of state-of-the-art geological equipment that helps researchers understand how to better extract oil minerals from shale rock.

The group also toured GE's Global Research lab, where they learned of new and innovative ways GE is re-shaping the oil and gas industry, with the hope of re-shaping their own.

As the SPP has continued in Oklahoma for the past 14 years, the cooperation with Azerbaijan has been influential and successful. For Oklahoma, the SPP has ranked in the top five percent of event execution, even with funding constraints.

"In the past four years, over 40 events have been completed between Oklahoma and Azerbaijan," Mitchell said. "Oklahoma has sent personnel to Azerbaijan for medical company training development, defensive engineer unit operations, overseen NATO evaluation exercises, and bilateral defense consultations, to name a few."

According to Mitchell, the collaboration between both nations has helped achieve strategic goals for the Azerbaijan's greater progress.

"I'm very happy and impressed with the relationship we have in the State Partnership Program," Suleymanov said.

With the incoming administration, both nations are hopeful to see a continuation of working together within the SPP in military-to-military engagements to help strengthen their relationship and provide valuable training for both nations.