FM: Azerbaijan expects progress in 2019 in Armenian troops’ withdrawal from occupied lands (INTERVIEW)

FM: Azerbaijan expects progress in 2019 in Armenian troops’ withdrawal from occupied lands (INTERVIEW)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 25

By Leman Zeynalova – Trend:

Trend’s interview with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov

- What are the results of this year’s ongoing negotiations on the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? How do you see their perspectives, especially against the background of recent reassuring statements?

- First of all, I would like to note that the position of our country regarding the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been repeatedly voiced at the highest level on all international platforms. The conflict should be resolved on the basis of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders. As for the legal basis for settlement, it is necessary to remind that this basis is primarily constituted by the four resolutions of the UN Security Council, which is responsible for ensuring peace and security throughout the world, numerous resolutions and decisions of other international organizations (including the OSCE, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Non-Aligned Movement, GUAM, NATO, European Parliament, etc.), as well as joint documents adopted in bilateral and multilateral formats.

Unfortunately, the negotiations carried out for many years have yielded no results. However, the recent developments taking place in Armenia, as well as the talks that took place between the Azerbaijani president and the Armenian prime minister on the sidelines of the CIS summits in Dushanbe and St. Petersburg, as well as my three meetings with the Armenian foreign minister give grounds for certain optimism regarding a progress in the negotiation process. In a joint statement by heads of the delegations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries and the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Dec. 6, adopted at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan, agreement was reached to continue negotiations on a fair and lasting peaceful settlement of the conflict. This means the format of negotiations remains unchanged. The document also reflects the call for compliance with the agreement reached in Dushanbe at the level of the leaders of the two states and for taking concrete steps to prepare the people of both countries for peace. Another important point is that the joint statement reflects the idea of ​​the need to conduct intensive results-oriented negotiations in the near future at the level of Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities in order to encourage a fair and lasting settlement. I would like to point out that this approach is fully supported by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

In general, I consider it appropriate to note that after the election held in December this year, the current Armenian authorities, having received a full-fledged mandate from the people of Armenia, should demonstrate the political will to resolve the conflict and, in accordance with good-neighborliness philosophy, act in the name of achieving peace, stability and sustainable development in the region. I believe that the Armenian people, having given such a mandate, thereby already expressed their position.

We hope that in the coming 2019, certain progress will be achieved in terms of the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and the normalization of relations between the two countries. Progress in resolving the conflict, creating conditions for peace, security and stability in the entire region, primarily will open up opportunities for economic growth in Armenia itself. Our country, just like it ensures safety of its citizens representing other ethnic groups, is ready to do the same in accordance with its international obligations regarding citizens of Armenian origin in Nagorno-Karabakh region and to grant them the right of self-governing at the high level within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani community of the Nagorno-Karabakh region is ready to return to their homes, and this aspect was again voiced in the recently released statement of the community. If you remember, some time ago there were contacts between the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but, unfortunately, as a result of the actions of the previous authorities of Armenia, these contacts were interrupted. You know, it is impossible to take the land and move with it to another place. After the settlement of the conflict, of course, these two communities will have to live together. That is why it is important to restore contacts between the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno-Karabakh region and encourage these contacts.

- What significant success of Azerbaijan in relations with international organizations could you mention?

The year 2018 was remembered by a number of achievements of our country, which continues its line of active representation and cooperation within international organizations. Among them, it is safe to mention the UN and the agencies in its system, as well as various regional organizations. Thus, on Sept. 25-Oct. 1, a number of events, speeches and important meetings took place as part of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, during which our country’s position on issues of concern to Azerbaijan and topical issues on international agenda met widespread understanding and support.

On Dec. 17, the UN General Assembly adopted the Azerbaijan-proposed resolution “Missing Persons”, which focuses the attention of the international community on the need to respect and comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law, prevent cases when persons go missing in armed conflicts, and take all necessary measures to search for missing people, including cooperation to establish the fate of missing persons in accordance with international obligations. This important initiative re-emphasized the humanistic nature of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, its adherence to international law and the obligations arising from it, as well as the determination to seek compliance with these rules by the UN member states.

On April 3-5, the Ministerial Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Baku, where representatives of 117 states and 16 international organizations took part. The Final Document and the Baku Declaration adopted following the conference reflected the consolidated support for Azerbaijan’s position on the peaceful settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

I would also like to emphasize the resolution adopted Dec. 12 by the European Parliament on the implementation of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. This resolution reaffirmed the settlement of existing conflicts on the basis of the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of internationally recognized borders.

The chairmanship of our country in the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) July 1-Dec. 31 was also very active; during its period, four meetings at the ministerial level and more than 20 meetings of thematic working groups were held, and the relevant documents assessing the progress achieved in various areas were adopted on our initiative.

I would especially like to highlight the growing unequivocal support from the international community regarding the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As a result of our consistent efforts, the wording “supporting territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders” has become more widely used in the diplomatic lexicon. Numerous documents and statements adopted following bilateral and multilateral meetings, including the final document of the Ministerial Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, the final declaration of the NATO summit, the aforementioned resolution of the European Parliament, joint statements of meetings held in various tripartite formats, as well as a number of statements adopted on a bilateral basis, expressing support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country within the internationally recognized borders, serve to even more strengthening the already existing broad legal framework for resolving the conflict.

During the year, our applications for membership in electoral bodies of a number of international organizations were also successful. For example, on June 6 in Paris, Azerbaijan was elected to the UNESCO Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and a day later in New York, Azerbaijan was elected to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in November in Dubai, Azerbaijan was elected to the Council of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for 2019-2022, Azerbaijan’s representative became a member of the ITU Radio Regulations Board, etc.

Thus, in 2018, Azerbaijan continued to promote its interests within various international organizations.

- What prospects were opened up for developing new oil and gas fields and laying the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline with the signing of the agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea this year by the Caspian countries?

- The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, signed by the leaders of the Caspian Five in August 2018, opened up new, unique opportunities for cooperation of the countries.

The Convention regulates the rights and obligations of the parties regarding the use of the Caspian Sea and its rich natural resources. It outlines the delimitation parameters of the Caspian Sea.

The signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea was a truly historic event that marked the goodwill of the five Caspian countries. This document is significant for our country because it outlines the sovereign and exclusive rights of coastal countries to use the rich natural resources of the sea.

Thus, the Convention ensures the consistency and safety of implementation of various projects in the oil and gas industry, as well as implementation of other economic activity in the sea.

It creates conditions for the freedom and safety of navigation, which plays an important role in terms of the development of trade in the Caspian Sea and the economies of our countries.

In general, such a goal as turning the Caspian Sea into a zone of peace, good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation will be achieved as a result of implementation of the provisions of the Convention.

Azerbaijan, as a country that has historically been a pioneer in the implementation of big projects in the Caspian Sea, plans to continue and expand cooperation with the Caspian countries.

Thanks to the successful energy policy, Azerbaijan has managed to guarantee its economic security, as well as gain the authority as a reliable partner, producer and transit country by contributing to Europe’s energy security.

Presently, the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor, a big infrastructure and energy project, is underway with Azerbaijan’s initiative and participation.

This project is significant in terms of transporting natural gas from the Caspian region to Europe, and we are always ready to provide neighboring, friendly countries, wishing to use transit routes through Azerbaijan, with our capabilities.

- As is known, Azerbaijan will chair the Non-Aligned Movement for three years from 2019. What can this important event bring to our country?

- While pursuing its consistent policy of developing international cooperation, Azerbaijan, as is known, joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 2011. It is one of the biggest international structures, including 120 states as its members, 17 countries with observer status and 10 international organizations with the same status.

NAM has its own rather long history. Such well-known state leaders of the past as Josip Broz Tito, Jawaharlal Nehru, Fidel Castro and many others left a mark in this history.

In a very short period of time, our country was able to clearly demonstrate its capabilities and was honored to lead NAM in 2019-2022.

As is known, the Final Document of the NAM Ministerial Conference in Baku in April stressed support for a number of our foreign policy initiatives, as well as the need to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and internationally recognized borders in accordance with four resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Azerbaijan’s chairmanship in NAM, with a view to further enhance the international authority of this structure, will be based on three priorities: promotion of the Bandung principles, strengthening the unity within the organization, and increasing the effectiveness of NAM.

I can say with confidence that our country’s chairmanship in NAM will provide additional opportunities for conveying our position globally. The 120 members of the organization make up two thirds of the UN member states, which creates opportunities to influence the adoption of certain decisions.

At the same time, the chairmanship in NAM may be a convenient format for the promotion of new initiatives put forward by our country. In turn, the implementation of initiatives will guarantee a further increase in Azerbaijan’s political authority in the world.

- Is there a possibility to sign an agreement on strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the EU in 2019? Apart from visa simplification, what dividends will it bring to Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan wants to develop equal and mutually beneficial partnership relations with the EU. The last year of our partnership was very productive in terms of advancing the agenda of cooperation with the EU.

In this regard, I would like to emphasize the Partnership Priorities document between Azerbaijan and the EU, initialed with participation of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and President of the Council of the EU Donald Tusk in Brussels on July 11 and finalized as adopted on Oct. 15 as part of the Ministerial Meeting of the Eastern Partnership in Luxembourg.

It is necessary to also mention the new comprehensive agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan, which will open an important stage in our bilateral cooperation, as well as the negotiations underway in this regard. The negotiation process still continues. Naturally, this requires some time, because we and our EU partners need a serious, quality agreement. This agreement will lay legal foundations for bilateral relations and strengthen the partnership between Azerbaijan and the EU in various areas. We believe it will be a strategic document based on equal partnership and common interests. Moreover, this agreement is necessary not only for us, but also for the EU member states.

Regarding the agreement on simplifying the visa regime, I would like to remind that it has been in force for several years. Its logical continuation includes the complete abolition of the visa regime with the EU. This means visa liberalization. But it is taking some time.

- What will be the foreign policy priorities of Azerbaijan in 2019?

As in the ending year, in the coming year, our country under the leadership of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will pursue an independent, multifaceted, balanced and active foreign policy based on national interests and defending Azerbaijan’s positions on the world stage.

Today, Azerbaijan is a state that, as an initiator and participant in major projects, is developing a regional cooperation and enjoys international prestige. The foreign policy achievements of our country, now perceived as a reliable partner, are, of course, based on the ability to build balanced relations with neighboring and other countries, equal dialogue and cooperation relations based on mutual interests.

The foreign policy priorities in 2019, of course, primarily include strengthening the sovereignty and independence of our country, eliminating the consequences of the Armenian military aggression against Azerbaijan and restoring our territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders, as well as continuing implementation of large-scale projects, where Azerbaijan is an initiator and a participant, further development of mutually beneficial cooperation with all international actors, including states, their unions and international organizations.

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Follow the author on Twitter: @Lyaman_Zeyn

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