TBY talks to Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on regional security, Nagorno-Karabakh, and international trade.
TBY What is the significance of Azerbaijan’s relationship with the EU, and what support has the EU offered to Azerbaijan’s economic development?
ELMAR MAMMADYAROV Azerbaijan has always been an active participant in the Euro-integration process. Our partnership with the EU has undergone a transformation from a predominantly assistance-based to a mutually beneficial interaction that reflects the interests of everyone. It is vital that the cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU is built on the basis of efficiency, equal partnership, mutual understanding, and respect. Azerbaijan is the main trading partner of the EU in the region and we expect to dramatically expand our non-oil sector in the years ahead. Therefore, our relations should cover other fields such as education, research and science, transport, agriculture, and security. We launched negotiations on the EU-Azerbaijan Association Agreement under the Eastern Partnership initiative (EaP) in 2010, and this is set to replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) by strengthening EU-Azerbaijan relations and helping to move the reform and approximation process in Azerbaijan forward, thus contributing to gradual economic integration and a deepening of political cooperation.
How has Azerbaijan formulated its foreign policy within the Caucasus region to best ensure regional cooperation and trade?
Azerbaijan is interested in developing mutually beneficial economic and trade relations with all states, and particularly with the countries of the Caucasus region. Our primary goal is to ensure sustainable economic development through diversification of the economy and further development of the non-oil sector, as well as promoting regional cooperation. Our country has no economic relations with Armenia, the armed forces of which still occupy almost 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. This factor negatively impacts comprehensive cooperation within the region and in fact leaves Armenia outside of the main regional projects. The official position of the Azerbaijani government is that Armenian forces should withdraw from the occupied territories. In that case, the door of economic cooperation and bilateral relations would open between the two states. At the same time, Azerbaijan has strong economic ties with all the other countries of the region, and those relations continue to develop as year-on-year bilateral trade turnover grows. Our country has become a leader in economic performance in the south Caucasus and is one of the fastest developing economies on the world stage. Azerbaijan also actively cooperates with the countries of the region on a multilateral basis in the framework of such regional organizations as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and other initiatives in order to be involved in and benefit from the projects of a regional nature in various fields.
How is Azerbaijan working with its neighbors to resolve long-standing territorial issues in the Caspian Sea?
Azerbaijan attaches great importance to discussions toward the regulation of traditional economic activity in the appropriate sectors formed as a result of established practice in the Caspian Sea. As a result of both multilateral and bilateral negotiations, we have signed agreements with Kazakhstan and Russia on seabed delimitation in the Caspian Sea. These agreements fixed the delimitation of the Caspian seabed on the basis of the median line principle and launched a new stage of negotiation processes by creating a legal base. At present, works within a Special Working Group on drafting the convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and bilateral negotiations with Turkmenistan and Iran on the delimitation of the seabed in the Caspian Sea are underway. We hope that the delimitation issues in the Caspian Sea will find their legal settlement within the framework of the friendly and cooperative relations that we have with our coastal Caspian neighbors.
What action is your Ministry taking to ensure Azerbaijan’s rights in the Nagorno-Karabakh region?
The Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and seven adjacent regions surrounding it have been under the occupation of the Armenian Armed Forces for 20 years. Through the relevant resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, the international community has called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces from Azerbaijan’s territories. Negotiations on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict continue under the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group after 17 years. I have had several meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia in 2010, mediated by my Russian colleague, Mr. Sergey Lavrov. Besides that, we hold regular contacts with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. Thus far, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been able to iron out some differences. Nevertheless, certain important elements still remain to be agreed on by both sides. We continue to work on basic principles, based on which a comprehensive peace agreement should be signed. Most recently, the leaders of the Russian Federation, US, and France have issued a joint statement reiterating that the current status-quo created as a result of the use of force is unacceptable and should be changed. Azerbaijan expects that the settlement of the conflict will provide for the withdrawal from the occupied territories, the return of Azerbaijani populations to their homes, the normalization of life, peaceful coexistence between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in the region, and the future political process of defining the self-rule status for both communities of the region within the territorial integrity framework of Azerbaijan. It is our firm belief that any solution to the conflict can be lasting only if it is based on the peaceful co-existence of the two communities. Within this basic framework of territorial integrity, Azerbaijan is ready to provide self-rule to the region through the equal participation of both the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities. This is widely recognized and supported by the international community. Despite all the difficulties stemming from discontinuity in the Armenian position, I still have hopes for a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
As the diversification of the country’s economy gathers pace, what can the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do to help foster FDI and support Azerbaijan’s non-oil and gas exports?
Azerbaijan has become a key investment destination in the region over the past years. In the last decade the total FDI stock in Azerbaijan has exceeded $25 billion, which is due to a number of factors, namely abundant mineral resources, a favorable location and climate, competitive cost of production, and friendly laws. Today, the government has defined its priority to diversify the economy, reduce the dependence on the oil and gas sector, and increase non-oil exports. Activities undertaken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its diplomatic missions to foster FDI and support non-oil exports include creating Azerbaijani trade chambers in potential export market countries; implementing various export promotion activities in foreign countries; organizing fairs, business-forums and conferences for exporters; and creating a data system for export products and exporting companies and disseminating this information among the various stakeholders. We also organize introductory meetings for delegations of potential investors in Azerbaijan.
What is the country’s relationship with NATO, and can we expect to see a continuation of the Partnership for Peace (PfP)?
Integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures remains one of the strategic goals of Azerbaijan as envisioned in the National Security Concept. Azerbaijan was among the first countries to sign up to NATO’s PfP program on May 4, 1994. We highly appreciate the firm adherence of the Alliance and its member states to the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Bilateral partnerships, in general, and our bilateral partnership with NATO in particular are no doubt successful. The principles and tools of bilateral partnership have helped us initiate major reforms in our defense and security sector, enhance interoperability, and contribute militarily to NATO-led military operations. In order to improve cooperation with NATO, Azerbaijan joined the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) in May 2004. IPAP has proven itself to be an effective mechanism, allowing for a substantive political dialogue and intensive practical reform efforts. In the framework of the IPAP process, dozens of cooperative projects are carried out on a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from preparing military units for international operations up to environmental cooperation and public diplomacy. Deriving from the principle of the indivisibility of security in the Euro-Atlantic area, we sent our troops to Kosovo and Afghanistan, where our soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO member state military contingents. We offered Afghanistan a number of assistance projects in the education and training sphere. Azerbaijan and NATO further exchange information on counter-terrorism issues. We look forward to expanding this area of cooperation with NATO. We believe that the goal of achieving security in the Euro-Atlantic area should be of central importance both for the Allies and PfP Partners, and that the Euro-Atlantic partnership should remain distinct within the growing partnership network of NATO.
© The Business Year