Finding Solution to Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict is Vital to Security, Stability and Economic Growth of Region: says NATO Parliamentary President (interview)

Azerbaijan, Baku 8 February / corr Trend K.Ramazanova / Trend's Interview with NATO Parliamentary President, Jose Lello.

Question: What is your estimation of the results of the presidential elections in Georgia? To what extent could these elections and Mikhael Saakashvili's victory in the presidential elections promote the regulation of the public and political situation in Georgia?

Answer: International observers generally agreed that the conduct of the 2008 extraordinary presidential election in Georgia was in essence consistent with universal principles for genuine democratic elections, whose results are a viable expression of the free will of the Georgian people. This is another important step forward for Georgia's developing democracy. However, it is important that the country's leadership fulfils its stated intention to look seriously into all flaws and irregularities documented by international observers and addresses all the problems before the parliamentary elections take place.

Under President Saakashvili, Georgia has made enormous progress in economic and political reforms. In fact, in a very short space of time Georgia has emerged as one of the world's fastest growing economies. Even so, much remains to be done, and it is important that Georgia builds up a consistent record of free and fair election elections. Of course, Georgia faces some extremely complex internal political problems. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has repeatedly expressed its concern over the lack of progress in resolving the frozen conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but we welcome Tbilisi's stated intention to resolve these conflicts through peaceful negotiation. We will continue to urge the member governments and parliaments of the Alliance to assist the parties in finding mutually acceptable solutions.

Question: Energy security is an important part of dialogue between Europe and the Caspian Sea region. To what extent could cooperation in this sphere be successful and what are your views on future interaction in the oil and gas sector between Europe and the Caspian Sea Region, in particular, Azerbaijan?

Answer: The Caspian Sea region is undoubtedly assuming an increasingly important geopolitical role, and this is, to a considerable extent, due to mounting concerns about energy security and diversity of resource supplies. Energy security has indeed become an inseparable part of the dialogue between Europe and the countries of the Caspian Sea region. Over the last decade European and US interests in the region have grown substantially; and, considering the direct link between energy supply and the security of the Alliance member states, it is only natural that energy security has also become a matter of concern for NATO.

As the European Union seeks to promote the diversification of energy supplies, which is crucial for its energy needs, its interaction with the countries of the Caspian Sea region, particularly with Azerbaijan, is bound to grow. Memorandums of Understanding on Energy Security recently signed by Azerbaijan with the European Union and the United States are significant steps in that direction. They also underscore Azerbaijan's important role in the sphere of energy. The opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline has already allowed the transportation of large volumes of the region's natural resources to Europe. However, the future of the energy sector co-operation will depend on stability and security in the South Caucasus-Central Asia region that can only be achieved by solving regional conflicts and by strengthening the rule of law and implementation of political and economic reforms in the countries of the region.

Question: Tehran calls on the international community, in particular, the IAEA, to close the nuclear file on Iran, because it was confirmed that the Iranian nuclear program is of a peaceful nature. Are there any unsettled issues with Iran and is there a need to adopt a third resolution by the UN Security Council?

Answer: I assume you are referring to the United States National Intelligence Estimate document which said that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme as a result of international pressure. The document also said that Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. Other intelligence service estimates have come to different conclusions, and there are still unresolved questions about Iran's nuclear activities and intentions. There is agreement across the transatlantic alliance, however, that nuclear proliferation in the region is extremely dangerous and that international pressure should be maintained on Iran to ensure that it does not violate its obligations as a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Question: The resolution of the Kosovo problem remains in focus of the world community. Taking into consideration that international mediators state the inefficiency of their efforts, what further actions should be taken? What is the solution to the situation?

Answer: The NATO PA recognises that the Kosovo problem remains the most pressing security issue in the region and that the final outcome of the status talks on Kosovo will have an impact on the security of the Balkans. There is a consensus among our members that this outcome should be a compromise solution acceptable to all sides, although we realise the difficulties that international mediators face in their efforts to reach an agreement between the parties. The NATO PA nevertheless strongly supports the international format of negotiations. In this context, a new UN Security Council resolution might be the best way of specifying the final arrangement, although we know that Russia has stated it would veto any resolution if the agreement were not reached between Pristina and Belgrade. It has to be added that some members of our Assembly underscore the importance of finding a solution as they view the present status quo as untenable and insist that further delays might have negative impact on security situation in the region.

The Alliance has played an active role in stabilising the Balkans and it is clear that a lot more has to be done to fully integrate the countries of the region into the Euro-Atlantic community. Therefore, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, along with NATO and other international institutions, will continue assisting Kosovo even after its status has been determined.

Question: What are your views on a solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh on the basis of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan? Is the NATO prepared to assist in the rapid resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, taking into consideration that talks within the OSCE are still failing?

Answer: Finding a solution to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as other territorial conflicts in the South Caucasus, is vital to the security, stability and economic growth of the region. The Alliance has repeatedly expressed its support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries in the South Caucasus. But it has to be stressed that the mandate to resolve the regional conflicts rests with other international organisations, such as the OSCE and the UN. NATO advocates a peaceful solution for the unresolved conflicts but does not seek to assume a direct role in finding them.

The NATO PA, for its part, has kept the issue of the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus, and in particular the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, on its agenda and is determined to continue acting as a forum for all relevant parties to exchange views. We will also work to facilitate confidence- and consensus-building measures. We are concerned with the rise of military budgets in the region and strongly plead against a military solution to the conflict that could only lead to further instability.

Question: What are NATO's priorities with respect to the South Caucasus, in particular, Azerbaijan in 2008? To what extent is NATO interested in the further expansion of relations with this region?

Answer: NATO and the NATO PA will continue maintaining high-level working contacts with the leaders of the South Caucasian states in support of our objectives in the region, namely promoting democratic transition and regional security and enhancing NATO co-operation programmes there. NATO's relations with Azerbaijan will continue in the framework of the latter's implementation of IPAP, security and defence sector reforms, as well as its participation in NATO-led operations. NATO PA will be soon holding a Rose-Roth seminar in Baku in cooperation with the parliament of Azerbaijan that would address issues pertinent to the Alliance's interests and concerns with particular reference to the Caucasus-Central Asia region.

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