PER SEMPRE

Azerbaijan 2012 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

Giorgio Napolitano, President of Italy, on the strength of Azerbaijani-Italian relations and the depth of trading ties.

Giorgio Napolitano
BIOGRAPHY
Giorgio Napolitano was born in 1925, and became the 11th President of Italy in 2006. In 1942 he graduated from the University of Naples, and during WWII was involved in the Italian resistance movement. His previous government postings include Minister of the Interior, which he occupied between 1996 and 1998, and President of the Chamber of Deputies, which he occupied between 1992 and 1994. He was also appointed as a Senator for Life in 2005.

As the largest country in the Caucasus region and located at the heart of ancient civilizations, Azerbaijan is among the most progressive Islamic societies that support secularism, different religions, and tolerance to the highest level. In 2011 the Republic of Azerbaijan celebrated the 20th anniversary of its return to independence, and Italy hosted a series of events to celebrate it. Among them it is worth mentioning the concert at the Opera Theater in Rome December 2011, where the best of Azerbaijani culture was on display and had a great impact on the hundreds of Italians that gathered for that special night. The same day it was a special pleasure to meet First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva at the Quirinale Palace, where we had a fruitful discussion on bilateral and international issues and the activities of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation that, among other commendable things, has launched a very interesting program in our country. President's Aliyev's decision to participate in the celebrations in Rome for the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification on June 2, 2011, was also particularly significant, and it testifies the excellent level that our relations have attained.

Italy and Azerbaijan are linked by deep feelings of friendship and by fruitful, multifaceted cooperation. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, our two countries have created a growing number of opportunities for intensifying political dialogue both at a bilateral and multilateral level. Membership in the OSCE and in the Council of Europe—strongly supported by the Italian government—represented a historic step in the process of gradual integration into European institutions. Azerbaijan's active cooperation with NATO over the last few years, through participation in the most important military operations, is also remarkable. Our common engagement in Afghanistan, indeed, represents a concrete contribution to creating a more secure world, free from terrorism and extremism, and is motivated by the same foreign policy goal; peace.

I am also glad to recall that cultural cooperation is very intensive, as well as people-to-people contact, which favors tourism and a better mutual understanding. In 2011 more than 4,000 Azerbaijani citizens visited Italy, not to forget the growing number of Azerbaijani students who attend Italian classes at the Azerbaijan University of Languages in Baku.

Economic ties are thriving; a significant partnership has developed between our two countries over the last few years. Italy is currently the first economic partner of Azerbaijan, with a bilateral turnover that exceeded €7.5 billion in 2011. In this context, it is worth mentioning that Azerbaijan recently became Italy's top oil supplier, thus providing a significant contribution to the achievement of Italy's strategic goal of diversifying its energy supplies.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge potential to be exploited in the economic field. Several new areas of cooperation can open new chapters in the relationship between our two countries, including agriculture, ICT, the food industry, tourism, renewable energy, and many more. This is the reason why the Italian government—namely the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Economic Development—constantly encourage Italian companies, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises, to take part in the process of diversification of the economy carried out by the government.

Looking at the social aspects, Italy deeply appreciates the model of religious tolerance that Azerbaijan represents in the Caucasus. This is an important achievement that also sets a valuable standard for other states in the Muslim world. As far as foreign policy is concerned, we strongly support efforts aimed at bringing Azerbaijan closer to European institutions. In every international forum we will support this goal. More specifically, we consider the Eastern Partnership to be an important tool to strengthen and widen the scope of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, both at the bilateral level and in multilateral platforms, where our Azerbaijani friends can always rely on our continuing support.

Cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan, however, can already rely on the important role that Azerbaijan plays in Europe's energy security, which champions supply diversification. I hope that such cooperation will be further intensified in the near future. We believe that the EU can play a positive role in bringing peace and stability to the region by helping both Azerbaijan and Armenia to find a negotiated solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Efforts to find an agreement on the Basic Principles should continue, and I welcome the fact that both parties have re-committed themselves to the diplomatic process and to finding a peaceful solution. Indeed, the status quo is unacceptable, as was recently reiterated at the G8 Summit in Deauville. The peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a key strategic interest of the international community, since a settlement of the conflict would pave the way toward stability in the South Caucasus Region, creating new economic opportunities and ensuring a better future for younger generations.

I am confident that Azerbaijan's election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2012-2013 term will offer a unique opportunity to consolidate the constructive role of the country in the region and beyond. I am also sure that Azerbaijani diplomacy will seize the momentum and contribute to the achievement of UN goals such as international peace and security, but also in the fight against poverty and in preserving the environment, as well as in further promoting religious and cultural dialogue among people.

As I mentioned earlier, energy is the milestone of our partnership, but I would like to underline that it is a different kind of energy that fuels the deep friendship between our two nations; an energy made of cultural respect and admiration that creates the natural sympathy that binds Italy and Azerbaijan. It is the same energy that explains the extraordinary flux in human contact between our two peoples. These feelings are deep and sincere; they represent the most solid and reliable foundation of our partnership and they are also the most important reason for optimism about future relations between Italy and Azerbaijan.