Ambassador: Italy immensely interested in Azerbaijan (INTERVIEW)
Azerbaijan, Baku, Sept. 1 / Trend S.Agayeva /
Trend interviews Azerbaijani Ambassador to Italy Emil Karimov
Trend: How do you assess the level of political and economic cooperation between Italy and Azerbaijan? Is there room for our ties to grow?
Karimov: Azerbaijan-Italy relations flourish.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has visited Italy twice - in February 2005 and November 2008. He signed several intergovernmental documents during his official visits.
We are expecting a return visit of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Azerbaijan. We have been working on this issue for about two years. We are in contact with the prime minister's office. Recently they told us that Berlusconi is very interested in Azerbaijan and wants to visit our country. I think we can organize a visit next year.
In addition, Azerbaijani several ministers recently visited Italy. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov visited Rome in 2010. Now, his Italian colleague Franco Frattini will make a return visit to Azerbaijan.
Inter-parliamentary ties between our two countries are high. Azerbaijani Parliamentary Speaker Ogtay Asadov also visited Italy this year.
The fact that in addition to an embassy, Azerbaijan has an honorary consulate in Genoa is another indicator of how are relations are developing. Former Italian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Margarita Costa, who is very active and tries to promote Azerbaijan in Italy, was appointed as the honorary consul.
I should stress that the Italian government supports Azerbaijan's and the peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Italy is one of Azerbaijan's top trade partners in economic terms. Azerbaijan mainly exports oil and oil products to Italy. However, the Italian government is very interested in Azerbaijani natural gas. In this regard, representatives of the Italian government have paid several visits to Azerbaijan and held talks. At the same time, I would like to stress that the development of cooperation with Azerbaijan in the non-oil sector is very important for Italy. Italy has immense potential and experience in this context. The Italian economy is built on a model of developing small- and medium-sized businesses, which is important for us.
With regard to the non-oil sector, it is well known that Italy is famous for its light industry, agriculture, tourism, and construction - all of which are important for our country. Ties are also actively developing in these areas.
The two countries established an intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, which first met in 2006. Now we are working to ensure that the next meeting of the commission is held in Rome. The intergovernmental commission's co-chairs are Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Alfredo Montica and Azerbaijani Industry and Energy Minister Natig Aliyev.
To date, more than 30 documents have been signed between the governments, ministries and departments of our two countries. At this stage, a number of projects of bilateral documents covering important areas such as health, economics, and law enforcement agencies are also under consideration.
Q.: What can Azerbaijan offer Italy as a trade partner? Are there any plans to initiate new economic projects?
A.: Today, Azerbaijan can offer Italy various types for cooperation - above all in the non-energy sector. This could be agriculture, light industry tourism or construction. Italy has extensive great experience in these areas. Talks are underway.
Q.: How do you see the cultural and social ties between Italy and Azerbaijan?
A.: Cultural cooperation is developing successfully. Politics and economy may change, but culture is the legacy of a country. Therefore, Italian-Azerbaijani cultural ties are very important. Our embassies, governments and ministries are actively working to promote cultural relations. On several occasions, Italy and Azerbaijan have hosted concerts and exhibitions featuring each others' musicians and artists. But these relations should be further developed. Italy is a large country. Azerbaijan should be popularized not only in Rome, but also in other cities and regions. One feels a great interest in Azerbaijani culture in Italy. The number of Italian tourists visiting Azerbaijan has increased over the last three years. The country is attractive to business people.
Developing cultural relations and promoting Azerbaijani culture are two of our embassy's major activities.
Q.: How do you assess Azerbaijan's role in guaranteeing EU energy security - particularly by providing gas through the South Corridor?
A.: Azerbaijan plays an important role in ensuring the EU's energy security and the EU has shown considerable interest in oil and gas projects in Azerbaijan in recent years. Italy, as an integral part of Europe, is also interested in the Azerbaijani gas.
In general, Azerbaijan-Italy bilateral relations are developing successfully. Italian officials have repeatedly stated that they are ready to provide any assistance to Azerbaijan's integration into European structures and also to provide an opportunity to share its experiences in this matter.
Q.: You are also the Azerbaijani ambassador to Malta and San Marino. How would you characterize Azerbaijan's current level of cooperation with these countries?
A.: Malta, although a small country, is a member of EU. The island has about 400,000 people. The country takes a great interest in Azerbaijan. Our embassy has been functioning in Malta since 2006 with its headquarters in Rome. Malta-Azerbaijan relations are developing quite successfully. About seven draft agreements are on the table at the moment. The documents will soon be signed. These agreements cover areas such as economics, tourism and cooperation between our foreign ministries and universities.
Malta's foreign minister is also expected to visit Azerbaijan in the near future upon the invitation of his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov. This will be the first official visit of such a high-ranking Maltese official to Azerbaijan.
Malta has a diplomatic academy at the University of Malta. Representatives of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry receive training in the institution each year. During my visits to Malta, I met with the academy's leadership and they expressed their readiness to expand cooperation with Azerbaijan.
The embassy has conducted several major events in Malta. One was a reception on Republic Day on May 28, which was attended by the president and the entire government/
We also presented the Azerbaijani economy in Malta together with the Maltese Chamber of Commerce. Maltese businessmen are expected to visit Azerbaijan in the near future.
Relations between Azerbaijan and San Marino are also successfully developing.
Developing tourist relations between our two countries is also on the agenda. To date, we have developed a draft agreement on cooperation in tourism, which will soon be signed.
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