Ambassador: Azerbaijan is very strong partner of U.S. in ensuring regional security (PHOTO)
Azerbaijan, Baku, Jan. 23 /Trend, E.Mehdiyev /
U.S-Azerbaijani relations were excellent in 2012 and I am sure that they will continue to be so in 2013, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar said in an interview with Trend.
"We cooperate in many areas including security and regional stability," the ambassador said.
Morningstar said the U.S. appreciates Azerbaijan's efforts related to Afghanistan, including troop deployments, cooperation on supplies transit, and Azerbaijan's commitment to help Afghanistan after the withdrawal of troops in 2014.
"We cooperate on issues related to counter-terrorism, Iran, and, of course, on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," the ambassador added.
Adding to what has been many years of cooperation between the two countries on energy issues, Ambassador Morningstar said there was a lot of progress made in that area in 2012.
"Our cooperation on energy issues will continue in 2013. We will make progress on oil and gas pipeline routes to Europe from the Shah Deniz project and the signing of the agreement with respect to the dedicated TANAP pipeline across Turkey, that SOCAR will have principal interest in," he said. "Also, we are doing more with respect to energy infrastructure protection and maritime security in the Caspian Sea."
Morningstar added, that the U.S. and Azerbaijan will continue to work in other economic sectors as well.
"It is important that Azerbaijan continues to diversify its economy. We look forward to further progress on Azerbaijan's accession to the WTO," the ambassador noted.
He said the U.S. also looks forward to continuing its work with Azerbaijan on democracy and human rights.
"We were happy to see the pardons granted by the Azerbaijani government last December and we look forward to further progress," the ambassador said.
Ambassador Morningstar said the U.S. expects free and fair elections in Azerbaijan this year, just as it does in any other country.
"As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated when she came here last June, our closest relationships are with democratic states that respect the full range of human rights of its citizens. We look forward to continuing to work with Azerbaijan in these areas," Morningstar underscored.
Speaking of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the ambassador said he understands "the frustration" of Azerbaijan over this matter.
"It is clear to me what a heart-breaking issue Nagorno-Karabakh is for all Azerbaijanis," he said.
Morningstar said with respect to the Minsk Group process, the U.S. will continue to support the group's efforts and will do everything it can to help make progress in the negotiations.
"I will work closely with top leadership here in Azerbaijan on those issues in cooperation with the Minsk Group negotiators," said the ambassador.
According to him, it is in everyone's interest to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
"I hope there will be the political will to get this done. We will do our best," the ambassador said.
Security in the region
Ambassador Morningstar stressed that Azerbaijan is a very strong partner of the U.S. in security issues.
"Azerbaijan plays an important role in the region as a key partner in counter-terrorism and other security issues," said the ambassador.
U.S.-Azerbaijani economic partnership priorities
Ambassador Morningstar said the U.S. and Azerbaijan have economic priorities in the energy area and are working together to diversify Azerbaijan's economy.
"I think Azerbaijan has huge opportunities," the ambassador said. "The country is rich with natural resources, and its well-educated population will be more important as the time goes on," he said.
According to him, it is important that Azerbaijan continues to take steps to make its economy more transparent.
"As the President of Azerbaijan stated in his most recent meeting with the Cabinet of Ministers, according to the press, corruption is a very serious issue that has to be dealt with in order to give all citizens of Azerbaijan confidence to make the best of their opportunities," Morningstar said.
The ambassador added that the U.S. looks forward to working with Azerbaijan on these issues.
"If Azerbaijan takes these steps it will be a leading economic power not only in this region, but also in the world," he noted. "Azerbaijan has a tremendous opportunity and I hope it will take advantage of it."
Azerbaijan's role in strengthening energy security
The U.S. ambassador said Azerbaijan plays a critically important role in the area of strengthening European energy security.
"I have spent many years dealing with energy issues related to Azerbaijan long before I came here as an ambassador. America's relationship with Azerbaijan in the energy sphere has historically been one of the strongest elements of our relationship."
The ambassador said the development of gas in Azerbaijan presents a tremendous opportunity to help supply Turkey and the rest of Europe, thereby diversification its energy market.
"Azerbaijan is a true leader in this process. We will continue to work closely with Azerbaijan on energy issues," he said.
Interest in Azerbaijani U.S. investments
With regard to Azerbaijani investment in America, Ambassador Morningstar noted that the U.S. is very interested in Azerbaijani companies that would like to work with the United States.
"The talent of Azerbaijani companies is growing. I am sure their investment would contribute to the U.S. economy," Morningstar said, adding that the first major area of development would be the airline industry.
He mentioned the desire of Azerbaijani airlines to start direct flights to the U.S. and stressed that hopefully such option would be available in a couple of years.
Efficiency of anti-Iranian sanctions to stop country's nuclear program
Further speaking, Ambassador Morningstar said that U.S. President Barak Obama has often said that while the U.S. will continue a very tough sanctions policy against Iran, it also wants to seek a diplomatic solution.
"We hope that the combination of sanctions and diplomacy will ultimately resolve the nuclear issue. There is a possibility of some meetings coming later this month. We hope there will be an agreement that such meetings take place. But I also want to point out that President Obama has made clear that nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable" said the ambassador.