Ambassador: Azerbaijan and Italy strive for raising existing ties to level of strategic cooperation
Azerbaijan, Baku, June 20 / Trend S. Agayeva /
The main challenge for Azerbaijan and Italy is to raise the existing ties to an even higher level of strategic cooperation, Azerbaijani ambassador to Italy Vagif Sadikhov, accredited to San Marino and Malta, said.
"We know that Italy is a founder and leading country of the EU, NATO, OSCE and Council of Europe," Sadikhov told Trend. As a member of the G-8, Italy is among the leading countries, distinguished by political activism in the international arena. From this perspective, the relations between Italy and Azerbaijan are of particular importance."
The ambassador said that the modern Azerbaijan-Italian relations have been established since January 1, 1992. "During that period Italy officially recognized the independence of our country," the ambassador added. "The first Italian embassy in the South Caucasus was opened in Azerbaijan in 1997. The Azerbaijani embassy in Italy was opened in 2003."
Sadikhov said that about 28 agreements and treaties covering various areas have been signed between the two countries over the recent years. The visits were paid at the highest governmental level.
The visit was paid by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev on September 24-27, 1997. President Ilham Aliyev paid a visit on February 24-26, 2005, another on November 25-26, 2008, and the most recent on June 2, 2011, during which he gave a special impetus to bilateral relations, the ambassador said.
"The chairman of the Azerbaijani Parliament also visited Italy," the ambassador added. "The high ranking officials of the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and others also visited Italy. We work to implement high-level visits from the Italian side."
"All the above-mentioned reasons give us impetus to believe that now the relations between the two countries are at a high level," the ambassador added. "Nevertheless, our main challenge is to raise the existing ties to an even higher level of strategic cooperation. The observations give reason to believe that the two sides have mutual interest in this area."
Azerbaijan's relations with Malta and San Marino
"Diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Malta were established on January 9, 1995", the Azerbaijani ambassador said. "The head of the diplomatic representation of Azerbaijan in Italy has been accredited to Malta since 2005. Our relations with Malta are at a high level. I have held several meetings and discussions to develop bilateral relations during my visit to Malta. Important legal documents are currently being coordinated to develop cooperation between our countries in the spheres of foreign policy, economics, education, culture and tourism."
Moreover, the Diplomatic Academy of Malta is creating conditions for one Azerbaijani diplomat to pursue an education and to obtain a Master's degree each year, the ambassador added.
The ambassador added that the relations with another European country - San Marino - are also at a high level. "Relevant legal documents aimed at promoting tourism, investment and eliminating double taxation are under coordination," the ambassador added. "I hope that these documents will be signed in the nearest future."
Disseminating the realities of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is among the chief problems facing the authorities of Azerbaijan's diplomatic service, the ambassador said.
"This is fixed in the Azerbaijani National Security Concept, the foreign policy concept and other documents," the ambassador said. Our embassy always focuses on this issue. Moreover, I think that disseminating the realities of the conflict in any part of the world must be a moral duty of every conscientious Azerbaijani."
The ambassador added that in some cases, European countries have not been informed about the conflict. It is necessary to make every effort to resolve this situation. The embassy has mobilized all its forces to eliminate these shortcomings in various ways. "The activity is carried out in different directions," the ambassador said. "Modern information technologies are used for promotion. We try the information we give to cover all the layers of the Italian society."
"As for the political aspect, it may be stressed that as an EU member Italy supports a peaceful settlement of the conflict within the OSCE Minsk Group," the ambassador said. "Italy joined the OSCE Minsk process in 1992 and was the chairman of the Minsk Group in 1992-1993. Today it is a member of the Minsk Group."
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE MinskGroup - Russia, France, and the U.S. - are currently continuing peace negotiations.
Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.
The ambassador said that the Azerbaijani community in Italy is small. Having a few hundred people the Diaspora is mostly located in northern Italy. Nevertheless, its members also contribute to inform the Italian public about Azerbaijani realities, the ambassador added.
Establishing political relations on a solid foundation between Italy and Azerbaijan has created a favorable basis for an economic cooperation, the Azerbaijani ambassador to Italy said.
The ambassador said that Italy has recently ranked first in the structure of Azerbaijan's foreign trade turnover with other countries. It became a leading trade partner of Azerbaijan. "If we pay attention to the dynamics of trade turnover between the two countries since 2009, it is possible to make sure that trade is steadily developing in an upward direction," the ambassador said. "Thus far, as of 2010, trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Italy amounted to $7.215 billion. Italy's total share in Azerbaijan's foreign trade turnover totaled 25.8 percent, imports have amounted 1.79 percent, and exports to 33.28 percent."
At present, an increase in the non-oil sector was observed in the structure of foreign trade turnover. Italian companies actively operate in several areas of the Azerbaijani economy, as contractors in the road infrastructure, light, heavy, food, furniture, and other industries. However, we must recognize the existence of significant potential in economic cooperation between the two countries. Work is underway to implement these opportunities, the ambassador added.
The ambassador said that a meeting of the interstate commission on economic cooperation is planned to be held between Azerbaijan and Italy in July. Ministerial visits supervising the economic sphere are planned to be held in the nearest future. The business forum and presentations with expert participation, specialists and business circles are also planned. Information is planned to be disseminated among public and private entities. The aim of these measures is to give impetus to economic cooperation between the two countries, the ambassador said.
Azerbaijan ranked third among the major oil suppliers to Italy, Sadikhov said.
"The cooperation in the field of energy between Azerbaijan and Italy is at a high level," the ambassador said. "It should be stressed that the share of oil and oil products, of course, has an advantage in production in the foreign trade turnover between Italy and Azerbaijan."
The ambassador added that the Italian company "Eni" has a five percent stake in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan consortium. The company "Eni" has recently expressed an interest in exploring the long-term range of possibilities with "Dan Ulduzu" and "Ashrafi".
The ambassador said that the diversification of energy export routes is of particular importance in implementing the energy strategy of Azerbaijan. In this regard, the "Joint Declaration on the Southern Gas Corridor" was signed between Azerbaijan and the EU during the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's visit to the Republic.
"The possible delivery of Azerbaijani gas directly to EU member-countries will be the most significant feature of the document," the ambassador said.
The ambassador said that the Italian side is interested in the Turkey - Greece - Italy (ITGI) pipeline project in the context of the "Southern Corridor". It makes every effort to promote this project. Another project within the "Southern Corridor" is the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which is one of the possible options for delivering Azerbaijani gas to Europe via Italy.
Azerbaijan continues analyzing the "Southern Corridor" routes. It has not yet made a final decision, Sadikhov said.
The "Southern Corridor" projects include "Nabucco", Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), "White Stream", and the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline (ITGI). The "Southern Corridor" is a priority for the European Union. It aims to diversify routes and sources of energy supply by improving EU energy security.