Miroslav Lajcak: OSCE is cautiously optimistic about settlement of Karabakh conflict (INTERVIEW)

Miroslav Lajcak: OSCE is cautiously optimistic about settlement of Karabakh conflict (INTERVIEW)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb.28

By Leman Zeynalova – Trend:

Trend's exclusive interview with OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Slovakia’s Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajcak

Question: How do you assess the current level of cooperation between Slovakia and Azerbaijan? What are the ways of expanding this cooperation?

Answer: I am glad that our bilateral relations between Slovakia and Azerbaijan are traditionally friendly. We do not have any open issues, and this creates a good basis for strengthening political dialogue and practical cooperation in all areas. Slovakia has a strong interest in good cooperation with Azerbaijan, which was reconfirmed during the official visit of Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini to Azerbaijan last November. We see a big potential in areas like energy, modernization of the transport infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism. We have to work on relevant treaties in order to make our economic cooperation more dynamic.

Slovakia also supports more intensified cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan. A new agreement between the EU and Baku is currently negotiated. We should aim for an ambitious agreement from which both sides can gain. This agreement would represent an important step forward in our relations.

Q.: Does the current level of trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Slovakia meet the countries’ existing potential? How could the two countries boost the bilateral trade?

A.: The current level of trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Slovakia does not reflect the existing potential adequately. We hope to increase the volume of our bilateral trade. It would be in both our interest to intensify relations between our entrepreneurs in manufacturing, participation of Slovak companies in restructuring Azerbaijani enterprises, modernizing transport infrastructure, as well as contracting for construction and medical equipment. We are keen to maintain intensive political dialogue at all levels and to strengthen the treaty-base in the investment and economic area. We see Azerbaijan as an important partner in the context of European energy architecture and we wish it to play a constructive role in diversifying energy routes and in strengthening energy security in our region.

Q.: What are the priority areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Slovakia? How can the two countries cooperate in the sphere of alternative energy?

A.: We consider energy a promising area to deepen our mutual economic co-operation based on the considerable human and commercial potential both countries have. Slovak companies are very active in the area of energy and benefit from years-long experience. And the Slovak Republic actively supports Slovak business entities, which are well-respected in the industry and use state-of-the-art technologies.

Mining and processing of oil and gas play crucial role in the economic development of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is an important producer of these mineral resources. The Southern Gas Corridor, aiming at supplying European markets with Azerbaijani gas, is a key energy diversification project of the EU.

I have been informed that Azerbaijan’s governmental programs in the energy sector are focused on the development of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants. Slovakia, as an export-oriented country with a strong economy is looking at strengthening partnership in trade and investments and we are interested in exploring new ways to improve our co-operation. And our companies are interested in working with local partners in this sphere to achieve further progress. We are also ready to share our experience in the area of alternative energy sources. Once again, I would like to assure you, that Slovakia will make every effort to further strengthen our excellent economic relations.

Q.: Is Slovakia still interested in opening its embassy in Baku? If yes, when approximately is it planned to open it?

A.: During his official visit to Azerbaijan in November 2018, Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini confirmed our interest in opening an Embassy in Baku. So the question is not about “if” but “when”. I suppose our Embassy will be opened in the not very distant future.

Q.: What about the prospects for creating a visa-free regime between the two countries?

A.: Slovakia, as a member state of the European Union, is bound by the common visa policy of the European Union. As such we cannot reach an individual bilateral agreement that would introduce a visa free regime between our two countries. But as a general principle, Slovakia supports efforts towards a visa-free regime.

Q.: This year Slovakia chairs OSCE and during the recent briefing, you said that Slovakia will focus on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict alongside with other conflicts in the OSCE region. Which measures should be taken to accelerate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s settlement?

A.: Settling a longstanding conflict is a complex task requiring stability in the regional context, active dialogue, and the readiness of societies to move forward. And experience has shown that inclusive processes are more likely to lead to real, lasting peace and stability.

Lately, we have seen signs of progress unfolding and we are cautiously optimistic about it. The human toll of violence along the line of contact and state borders has decreased. We are seeing a certain regularity of senior level dialogue between Yerevan and Baku. And the result of these developments contributes to increased stability in the OSCE space.

Our Chairmanship is committed to supporting a negotiated, peaceful, and sustainable resolution of the conflict.

I have reappointed Amb. Andrzej Kasprzyk as my Personal Representative on the Conflict dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference; we have faith in the Minsk Process, and will ensure it has the support needed to succeed. I am in close contact with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and took positive note of the recent meeting of the Foreign Ministers in Paris. Their understanding that concrete measures are needed to prepare the populations for peace deserves our support.

And more broadly speaking, the OSCE provides a forum for dialogue, cooperation and mediation, and in that can help us to focus on related humanitarian needs. One of the priorities of the Slovak OSCE Chairmanship is preventing, resolving, and mediating conflict and mitigating its humanitarian consequences wherever possible. As during my visits to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, I am eager to ensure that the people most affected remain high on the agenda of the international community.

Q.: What is the program of your upcoming visit to Azerbaijan?

A.: My programme is not final yet, but I plan to meet with the political leadership to see how we can best support Azerbaijan in implementing its OSCE commitments, the peace process and the activities of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs. And of course, beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is in the interest of us as the OSCE Chairmanship to maintain open and frank dialogue and good relations with all participating States, and to support progress on the ground. On all of my trips, I am eager to meet with and listen to our partners, whether in government, parliament, and other representatives of society, including those affected by conflict and related developments I am glad to be able to visit Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus in the early stages of our Chairmanship and this way to show the importance the OSCE attaches to the region.

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