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Adams adviser Frank Carone meets Azerbaijani official to talk ‘geopolitical issues,’ unnerving human rights observers

Frank Carone, Mayor Adams’ longtime political confidant who’s spearheading his reelection campaign, recently met with a top adviser to the authoritarian leader of Azerbaijan to talk about “geopolitical issues,” the Daily News has learned.

The meeting with Hikmet Hajiyev, chief of staff to controversial Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, took place last week at the presidential palace in the country’s capital, Baku, according to a post Carone made on his private Instagram account this past Friday. The News obtained a screen grab of the post.

“Privilege to discuss geopolitical issues with [Hikmet] Hajiyev, COS to President [Ilham] Aliyev of Azerbaijan at the Presidential Palace,” Carone captioned the post, using an acronym for chief of staff. The post featured a photo of Carone standing next to Hajiyev in his office at the presidential palace.

Carone served as Adams’ City Hall chief of staff until he resigned in January to run the mayor’s 2025 campaign.

In addition to serving as Adams’ de facto reelection campaign head, Carone has since exiting City Hall launched Oaktree Solutions, a consulting firm he says aims to attract clients from around the world in need of business, litigation and crisis management services.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams walks with his Chief of Staff Frank Carone (R) outside City Hall on Nov. 1, 2022.

In a statement Tuesday, Carone said he was in “the lovely city of Baku because I have clients based in the city and region.” He said he got invited to meet with Hajiyev while there.

“We kept the conversation at a high level discussing how the city will host Formula 1 next September and of course their hopes for peace in the region with their neighbors,” Carone said. He would not name his clients in the region or say whether he has spoken with Adams about his interactions with the Azerbaijani government.

A spokesman for Adams, who drew criticism during the 2021 mayoral campaign for accepting a trip to Azerbaijan bankrolled by Aliyev’s government, did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Carone said he paid his own way during his Azerbaijan visit.

Sheila Paylan, an international human rights lawyer who studies Azerbaijani affairs and used to serve as a legal adviser at the United Nations, said Carone’s meeting with Hajiyev struck her as “extremely unusual.” She said it seems “odd that someone who’s an adviser to a politician on the municipal level in New York would go and discuss geopolitical issues in the region.”

The Azerbaijani presidential office did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev arrives for a meeting of the European Political Community at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Oct 6, 2022.

Carone’s comment about “peace in the region” is a reference to the bloody Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict, which is pitting Armenians against Azerbaijanis.

Paylan disagreed with Carone’s characterization of the Azerbaijan government’s efforts as intent on brokering peace.

“The peace that they want to broker is a unilateral peace where they concede nothing and Armenians concede everything,” she said. “I don’t see this is conducive to peace.”

Last month, the U.S. State Department voiced concern about “deteriorating humanitarian conditions” in the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulting from a “continued blockage of food, medicine and other goods essential to a dignified existence.”

Aliyev, who took power in 2003 and is routinely described as a dictator by international observers, has long been accused by human rights organizations and U.S. diplomats of corruption and repressive, anti-democratic activities.

More recently, Aliyev has allied himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including by signing an intelligence-sharing agreement with the Kremlin a few months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, shake hands during their meeting on sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, in Astana, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.

A former senior U.S. State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly, said it’s not unusual for some American municipal government representatives to interact with counterparts overseas, even in countries with undemocratic systems. He mentioned, for instance, that cities like New York have “sister city” agreements with municipalities around the world.

But the official said it seemed odd that Carone, who is no longer employed in Adams’ administration, would meet with foreign dignitaries overseas to discuss geopolitical matters.

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