Azerbaijan 2012 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Azerbaijan's seat on the UN Security Council, its role in regional cooperation, and relations with Turkey and NATO.

HE Elmar Mammadyarov
After finishing his academic career, Elmar Mammadyarov became a Director in the Division of State Protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1992 he became the First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the UN, and later became Deputy Director at the Department of International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1998 he was appointed Counselor of the Azerbaijan Embassy in the US, and later the Azerbaijan Ambassador to Italy. In 2004, he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

What will the impact of Azerbaijan's non-permanent two-year membership of the UN Security Council be, and what are your priorities in this regard?

Since joining the UN on March 2, 1992, Azerbaijan has consistently demonstrated its commitment to the principles and goals of the UN Charter and international law, which are, in my view, indispensable preconditions for a peaceful, prosperous, and just world. Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council with the support of 155 countries, and I believe that this represents the recognition of the accomplishments our nation has achieved over the past 20 years of independence. At the same time, we are aware of the great responsibility our membership on the UN Security Council brings, but feel ready to take on any challenge. We will make our utmost efforts to support international peace, justice, security, and stability. Let me underscore the importance of transparency in decision-making, accountability, and consistency in the implementation of adopted resolutions. As a non-permanent member, Azerbaijan will play a great role in making the UN Security Council more transparent, inclusive, and effective, so as to better respond to the threats and challenges that our world faces today.

What role has Azerbaijan played in promoting regional cooperation and development?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and since the very first days of independence, it was actually Azerbaijan that unlocked the potential of the Caspian Sea and South Caucasus region by leading the pace of development in the oil and gas and transportation sectors, and, in general, attracting FDI, which immediately helped Azerbaijan and the whole region create a better investment climate. Azerbaijan has successfully positioned itself as a regional leader in terms of increasing regional investment and removing infrastructure bottlenecks. In times of political volatility and risk, with the ambitious “Contract of the Century" and the Silk Road milestones, Azerbaijan initiated a policy of massive, large-scale investment in oil and gas exploration and production in the Caspian Sea, as well as laying down solid regional transportation infrastructure, which resulted in helping the Caspian Sea, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus region to connect to the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions. The role our country assumed, in fact, helped to untap the export and import needs of the wider region as a whole. Our projects in inland, multi-modal, aviation transportation, and the oil and gas sectors enabled technology transfer, the transfer of sector-specific expertise, and growth in tourism opportunities across the region, increasing both employment and income opportunities. All that led to the realization of many commercially strategic regional projects such as TRACECA, Baku-Supsa, Baku-Batumi, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, and the South Caucasus Export Pipelines, which transport not only our crude oil and natural gas, but also similar commodities produced in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Today, Azerbaijan wants to maximize the opportunities for itself and the region in general, promoting and enabling projects such as the Customs Cooperation Initiative, the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey Electricity Bridge, the Aid-for-Trade Initiative, and the Southern Gas Corridor. In these days of competitive globalization, our new ambitious regional and inter-regional projects are focused on the ICT sector and the realization of the Trans-Eurasian Information Super Highway project (TASIM). Through its numerous efforts, Azerbaijan managed to bring many businesses and governmental partners to the negotiating table. In so doing, we brought forward the idea of using our regional geography to create politically solid, financially bankable, and long-term commercially viable partnerships in the region. Azerbaijan could not have achieved that if it had not been for its ability to build sustainable cooperation and partnership projects.

How would you assess the strategic partnership between Turkey and Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan and Turkey have enjoyed fraternal relations from the very first day of our independence, and as you may know Turkey was the first nation to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991. We are strong allies and strategic partners on many issues. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which was signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey at the end of December 2011, is one of the numerous agreements existing between the two countries. These documents contribute to the enhancement of our strategic partnership, which is also based on deep historical ties, as well as cultural, linguistic, and religious kinship. Azerbaijan and Turkey also share common positions on the issue of energy diversification. The TANAP project will further advance our cooperation in this direction. It is worth noting that the agreements on the transit, purchase, and sale of natural gas that were signed in Izmir on October 25, 2011 at the first meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council of Azerbaijan and Turkey paved the way for further endeavors in the energy field. The construction of the Star refinery is also a big economic commitment and Azerbaijan's first great investment project abroad, worth $5.5 billion.

What is the significance of Azerbaijan joining the Non-Aligned Movement? How is Azerbaijan looking to revitalize its engagement with NATO?

We consider Azerbaijan's joining the Non-Aligned Movement and our relations with NATO on different tracks. Membership in the Non-Aligned Movement allows the Republic of Azerbaijan to effectively cooperate with non-aligned countries in various fields and contribute to the Movement's constructive role in international relations for the purpose of achieving a more just, equal, and law-abiding world order. Azerbaijan pursues a multi-dimensional and balanced foreign policy and has proven to be a reliable partner, as well as a strong and, to a greater extent, decisive country to cooperate with in the Caspian-Caucasus region. The Non-Aligned Movement represents a forum where we hold useful dialogue on global peace, security, and justice. When it comes to our partnership with NATO, it is worthwhile to mention that integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures remains one of the strategic goals of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was among the first countries that signed up to NATO's Partnership for Peace (PFP) program on May 4, 1994. In order to improve cooperation with NATO and bring it to the next level, 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 effort. 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, to environmental cooperation and public diplomacy. Azerbaijan and NATO have recently endorsed the third stage of IPAP, consisting of politics and security, defense and military issues, public information, civil emergency planning, science and environmental issues, administrative issues, security of information resources, and legal issues.