Ilham Aliyev, Angela Merkel hold joint press conference in Baku (PHOTO)

Ilham Aliyev, Angela Merkel hold joint press conference in Baku (PHOTO)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Aug. 25

Trend:

Following the expanded meeting, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel held a joint press conference.

President Ilham Aliyev and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the press conference.

Statement by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- Dear Mrs. Chancellor,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen!

First of all, Mrs. Chancellor, let me sincerely welcome you to Azerbaijan. Welcome to our country! This is the German Chancellor's first visit to Azerbaijan. This is a historic visit. We attach great importance to this visit. I am confident that German-Azerbaijani relations will develop rapidly as a result of this visit and that this visit will give a major impetus to our relations.

We have had a very open and constructive discussion on many issues on our agenda today. I am sure that the negotiations and the exchange of views held will create a good basis for further cooperation.

I have informed Mrs. Chancellor about the issues of regional security, in particular the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As is known, the territories of Azerbaijan recognized by the international community have been under Armenian occupation for many years. As a result of this occupation, more than a million Azerbaijanis have found themselves in the position of refugees and internally displaced persons on their own land. The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions in connection with the conflict.

These resolutions state that Armenian armed forces must withdraw from the occupied lands immediately and unconditionally. Unfortunately, Armenia ignores these resolutions and does not fulfill them. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored and the conflict must be resolved on the basis of these principles.

We have also exchanged views on other issues today. The turnover between us is growing. We will meet with representatives of business circles of Germany and Azerbaijan today. Companies from Germany are involved in many projects in Azerbaijan, and I am sure that their activities here will further expand after this visit as there are great opportunities for that. Azerbaijan is successfully pursuing the policy of economic diversification. Major investments are made and the investment climate is very positive. Over the past 15 years, Azerbaijan has received investments in the amount of $250 billion, about half of which is foreign investment.

Of course, energy security issues are the focus of attention. Azerbaijan is playing a role in this sphere and contributes to the energy security of Europe. In particular, the creation of the Southern Gas Corridor is perceived as a historic event. This is a very large-scale project, a project requiring investments of $40 billion, and it is being successfully implemented. The official opening of the Southern Gas Corridor took place in Baku in May this year.

Mrs. Chancellor and I have also exchanged views on democracy and the protection of human rights, and intend to continue our cooperation in this field. The European Union-Azerbaijan relations were also discussed, and we are very pleased with the way these relations have developed. A document on the priorities of the partnership between the European Union and Azerbaijan was signed this year, and work on the comprehensive agreement has been very constructive. I do hope that the negotiations are successfully concluded in the near future and a new period of cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan starts.

In short, these and other issues, including those related to the regional situation, have been discussed today. This shows that the relationship between us is quite sincere and friendly, and this visit will play a major role in strengthening these relations.

Dear Mrs. Chancellor, once again welcome!

Statement by Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel

- Dear Mr. President!

Thank you for the warm welcome. I also want to thank you for the comprehensive discussion today. This is my first visit to Azerbaijan as Federal Chancellor, and this has been the first opportunity to openly discuss the relations between our countries and to continue to develop our cooperation.

Azerbaijan marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Azerbaijan is a state with its own traditions.

Our bilateral relations are characterized by the fact that Azerbaijan is our largest and most important trading partner in this region. We have a chamber of foreign trade in Azerbaijan, with 150 German enterprises operating here. Azerbaijan, in its turn, is interested in diversifying its economy, and Germany can make a serious contribution to this area. Today's joint business forum will also serve this goal, and we will talk about the details there.

Azerbaijan is a strong factor in the energy diversification of the European Union, and the opening of the Southern Gas Corridor will play a major role in Europe's energy supply. We highly appreciate the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in Azerbaijan. This will expand trade ties with Europe and facilitate the exchange.

We have had a very frank discussion about the internal situation in Azerbaijan, about human rights. Although our positions on some issues did not always coincide, we have talked about the importance and desirability of building a secular state and creating open democratic conditions.

We have openly talked about the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. I have once again stressed that Germany is interested in resolving this conflict and we will contribute to this within the framework of the Minsk Group. The formation of a new government in Armenia may lead to an improvement in the situation in this area, may give impetus to the negotiations, and Germany can also participate in that. We have also talked about the security of the region. The geographical location of Azerbaijan is very interesting, as on one side it is surrounded by Russia and on the other by Iran, and has connections with Turkey. We agree with the view that conflicts must be resolved peacefully, through talks, and all the conflicts existing in this region must be resolved in peace.

There are suitable conditions and foundations for intensifying our further dialogue. Even when opinions differ at times, it is necessary to talk about this and exchange views. The opinion of the other party must be carefully listened to. So I want to thank you for the discussion. Thank you very much.

Then President Ilham Aliyev and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel answered questions from journalists.

Mihaela Kufner (Deutsche Welle): President Aliyev, you have talked about development in the relationship. Opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov was recently released from custody. Many investigative journalists, including Afgan Mukhtarli, still remain in prison. This is why the Council of Europe criticizes you. Given the close economic cooperation with Germany and the European Union, as you have just mentioned yourself, and based on the commitments you have assumed as Afghanistan, in the Council of Europe, will you begin to take further steps towards human rights standards? Did the German Chancellor speak to you about these specific cases?

Mrs. Federal Chancellor, you also represent European values here. This is currently the topic of heated discussions in Brussels. What standards do you use in treating the partner country of Azerbaijan in this context? You mentioned that Germany would intensify its efforts in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Could you please spell out how this will be happening? Of course, I do not mean the conflict, but its settlement.

President Ilham Aliyev:

- First of all, I should note that Azerbaijan is a country committed to democratic values. There are all democratic institutions in Azerbaijan, all freedoms are guaranteed, including the freedoms of speech and of the media. There are hundreds of print media in Azerbaijan, including many opposition publications. In other words, no-one is persecuted in Azerbaijan, no-one is punished for criticism and for different views. The freedom of assembly is also guaranteed in Azerbaijan, and any political force can take advantage of these opportunities.

As you know, presidential election took place in Azerbaijan this year. Both in the run-up to and after the election, the opposition held numerous actions and rallies – freely and without any obstacles. The issue is that no more than a thousand people showed up for these rallies. This is probably a sign of the level of respect the opposition enjoys, but there are no restrictions.

Azerbaijan is committed to democratic values and human rights. The Council of Europe criticizes not only Azerbaijan but also many countries. We take this criticism normally. If the criticism is justified, of course, we draw the right conclusions. If we believe that this criticism is unfounded, biased and based on double standards, then, of course, we openly express our opinion. I mentioned in my opening remarks that issues related to human rights and democratic development were openly and constructively discussed with Mrs. Chancellor, and these issues will be discussed in the future.

Our agenda is quite extensive, and all the issues being discussed are of equal importance – energy, transport, trade, regional security, including democratic development. Issues of democracy cover a large portion of the new agreement being negotiated between the European Union and Azerbaijan today. This is our conscious choice, no-one coerced us into making this choice. Azerbaijan will continue to develop successfully as a modern and democratic country. Our political and economic reforms will complement each other and take Azerbaijan to a higher level.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel:

- There is no gradation in democratic values for us. We have a clear understanding of what democratic values are. This discussion is under way both in bilateral frames and within the Council of Europe. I would also like Azerbaijan to conduct a dialogue on the issue of organizing elections. We discussed these issues in detail today. Our standards are always the same and they are evaluated from the standpoint of prospects.

We will continue our work in the Minsk Group in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. This time I visited both countries and have therefore developed a clear idea of how urgent a resolution of the issue is and how it should be resolved. We will step up our efforts. All parties must get involved in order to find a solution, and we will contribute to this.

Elshan Rustamov (1News): Armenia has been keeping Azerbaijani lands under occupation for many years and has committed crimes against our people. As a result of the horrific act of genocide perpetrated by the Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Khojaly, more than 600 civilians, including over 60 children, were brutally killed. As a result of Armenia's aggression, about 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory is occupied. More than a million of our compatriots have found themselves in the position of refugees and internally displaced persons. Their property and homes have been looted. The fundamental human rights of these people have been flagrantly violated. The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions demanding an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Azerbaijani territories. However, Armenia flouts and does not fulfill them. Why haven’t any sanctions been imposed on Armenia yet?

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel:

- As I said earlier, we are working on a solution. I am very glad that there is at least some calm now. In other words, people do not suffer there at present, and Germany will certainly continue its efforts on the basis of the decisions of the UN Security Council and will try to find a way to resolve the issue in order to improve the situation for the people in the affected regions.

Christian Wilp (RTL/n-tv): My question is for both Mr. President and Mrs. Chancellor. Mr. President, you spoke about a gas pipeline that will extend from Azerbaijan to Europe – the Southern Gas Corridor. Are you in favor of increasing the capacity of this pipeline and extending it to Turkmenistan via the Caspian Sea? Mrs. Chancellor, what do you read into this issue? I would also like to address another question to Mrs. Chancellor related to the current situation. Italy was threatening that if the refugees arriving in Italy were not spread across the European Union, it would reduce payments to the European Union. What do you think about that? Where will this lead to? And since we are talking about the topic of refugees in connection with the year of commitments in Germany, what do you think about the refugees in the country?

President Ilham Aliyev:

- All work related to the Southern Gas Corridor in Azerbaijan is progressing on schedule. The Southern Gas Corridor is a giant international project consisting of four components – the development of the Shah Deniz-2 gas condensate field, the South Caucasus pipeline transporting Azerbaijani gas through Georgia, the TANAP pipeline transporting Azerbaijani gas to Turkey, and the fourth component TAP, or the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. Three of the four components have already been implemented. The opening of TANAP took place in June this year. The remaining part is under construction.

I do hope that there are no problems there either, and Azerbaijani gas will be delivered to European markets via a 3,500-km pipeline on time, i.e. in 2020. Thus, a very valuable contribution will be made to the energy map of Eurasia. Azerbaijan will therefore resolve all the issues related to energy security. After all, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline built in previous years delivers Azerbaijani oil to the Mediterranean Sea. The Baku-Supsa pipeline leading to the Black Sea was built upon our initiative. The Baku-Erzurum gas pipeline has been built, and we will meet all our objectives by this fourth project.

As for Azerbaijan’s transit capacity and our attitude, of course, every country wants more cargo to pass through its territory. At present, we are delivering oil from Turkmenistan to world markets via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and also transporting dry cargo from Central Asia through the territory of Azerbaijan via the recently commissioned Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.

Of course, the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline should be of more interest to the owner of gas and transit countries should not show initiative here. Just as we have done as the owner of gas – we started the construction of a 3,500 km pipeline and allocated large financial resources. Therefore, if there is a decision in the eastern part of the Caspian Sea to deliver gas to world markets via the territory of Azerbaijan, we can certainly consider this with great interest and make a decision then. But this decision should not come from us, but from the opposite side.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel:

- As you know, discussions are currently under way in Brussels on the distribution of refugees in Europe. All countries are expressing their views. We have time until the end of August, and I do hope that we can succeed during this time. These negotiations are not so easy. Regarding your second question, let me say that we are continuing the negotiations, are ready to get acquainted with all the positions and after that a decision will be made on the principal issues.

Sevil Mikayilova (Trend news agency): Azerbaijan accounts for about 70 per cent of Germany's trade with South Caucasus countries. At present, Azerbaijan is carrying out very serious reforms in the economic sphere. Special attention is being paid to economic diversification. Industry and non-oil industry, agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, and the ICT sectors are developing fast. President Ilham Aliyev and you will meet with business people from Germany today. What type of work do you think German business people would like to do in the areas I have mentioned, and what are their plans?

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel:

- I have come here with a business delegation. Companies have different proposals. I can note that there are projects in construction and infrastructure spheres, as well as in the field of building materials. We can work together in the agricultural sector, in the field of technologies for agricultural machinery, as well as digital and educational fields. In addition, a German company is involved in the preparation of documents related to security – passports, identity cards and banknotes. There is very broad choice here. We can participate in all the areas Azerbaijan is interested in. As I have already mentioned, there are already 150 of our enterprises operating in Azerbaijan. We invite other German companies to come here.

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