Jackson Diehl's Oct. 24 op-ed column, "An Oil-Rich Test for Bush; Fair Elections in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan Could Energize a Region," underscored the strategic importance of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to the United States. This importance will increase with the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Kazakhstan will use for its oil exports. Yet, Mr. Diehl's comparison of Eurasia with the Middle East was misleading.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe.

Comparing Azerbaijan with Georgia and Ukraine is not helpful either. For instance, President Ilham Aliyev's popularity in Azerbaijan stands at about 70 percent, according to most surveys, including international ones. He is seen as the champion of reforms. Recently, for example, he moved to fire the most odious and corrupt members of the government and later pushed for measures to ensure free and fair elections in November.

Mr. Diehl mentioned only one example of the equal and free access of all political parties to the nationwide television campaigning; in fact, with about 1,900 candidates from a spectrum of political parties competing for 125 seats in the parliament and hundreds of observers watching the poll, Azerbaijan is having the most dynamic election campaign in its history.

As imperfect as the political processes in Azerbaijan are, the progress in strengthening its democratic institutions is undeniable. Positive U.S. engagement is both welcome and helpful.

ELIN SULEYMANOV

Senior Counselor

Foreign Relations Department

Office of the President

Baku, Azerbaijan