Exclusive interview with Robert Simmons, special representative of the NATO Secretary General to South Caucasus and Central Asia
Question: During a news conference at the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry You stated that one of the major directions of the NATOвЂ™s Individual Partnership Program is a support to reforms in the defense sector of the country. What other directions does the program envisage?
Answer: There are three aspects in the NATO-Azerbaijan cooperation. First is to create inter operability of Azerbaijan, i.e. to develop a labor ability of Azerbaijan to work with the alliance for seeking ways of cooperation. Second aspect will be assistance to them in developing better means of budgeting, planning, management of the Defense Ministry, personnel management and other issues like that. The third is to emphasize on the ways of control of the armed forces, i.e. to ensure the President and the parliament to take an ultimate control over the implementation of the military policy by the Defense Ministry.
Question: Does not the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict impede the development of cooperation between Azerbaijan and NATO? Could Azerbaijan integrate into the alliance in case of existence of an unsettled conflict?
Answer: Of course, it would be helpful for the conflict sides themselves ultimately to come to an agreement on the conflict through peaceable talks. Currently the Presidents and the Foreign Ministers of the two countries are conducting negotiations on the resolution of the conflict and weвЂ™re hopeful to see such relationships to end in an agreement. But we publicly continue cooperating with both sides - Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Eventually it was our hope to cooperate with these countries together and to cooperate as region. Therefore, we believe the conflict sides themselves will reach a peaceable resolution.
Question: Do the positions of Moscow and Brussels coincide on the Southern Caucasus?
Answer: We cooperate extensively with Russia. We cooperate with Russia in many issues, including the Southern Caucasus issue. The Alliance does not regard the Southern Caucasus, as any other region, as an area of conflict, or competition with Russia. We have good relationships with Russia, like RussiaвЂ™s with NATO. There should not be any conflicting issue between Brussels and Moscow, i.e. between NATO and Russia.
Question: How could you comment the conflicting information on the establishment of US armed bases in Azerbaijan?
Answer: To best of my knowledge, the United States is not going to establish its armed bases in the Southern Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, or any other country of the region. Washington delivers assistance on multilateral and bilateral basis. But IвЂ™ve never heard that the United States was going to station operative armed forces in the Southern Caucasus.
Question: What is the position of the North-Atlantic Alliance on re-dislocation of the Russian armed forces from Georgia and Armenia? Does not this step give birth to imbalance of forces in the region?
Answer: Our overall position is that to place foreign forces in the territory of another country first the country should agree on it. It was clear that Georgia sometimes had not favor the placement of the Russian bases in its territory. Every country has a right to agree or not upon placement of foreign forces in its territory.
Our view is that if a country, which is going to station the armed forces in the territory of another country, undertakes a peacemaking commitment and if a country of dislocation is not against having foreign forces in its territory, then it can be allowed. As to Armenia, this country has politically agreed upon the placement of Russian armed bases in its territory and agrees upon the Russian policy in its territory. So, NATO has no objection in this respect. We accept such foreign forces. Our policy is that we will back the efforts of the country which does not want to have any foreign forces in its territory, like in case with Georgia.
Question: What is NATOвЂ™s role in opening the Armenian-Turkish border?
Turkey is the member of the alliance and obviously as a member we have good perspective for cooperation. We hope that the negotiations between Turkey and Armenia will be well continued.
Question: Could you tell us about procedures and steps required for AzerbaijanвЂ™s entrance to NATO and could it become possible in the medium-term perspective?
Right now we continue equal term cooperation well. The beautiful start was the development of cooperation with Azerbaijan under the NATOвЂ™s partnership actions programs. Afterwards, it would be possible to consider AzerbaijanвЂ™s membership at the Northern Alliance. Within a definite periods of time, when the sides come to an agreement, AzerbaijanвЂ™s membership at NATO can be put under process. When there is peace in Azerbaijan and the country is ready, Baku and the Alliance could start talks on AzerbaijanвЂ™s membership at the organization.
In case the integration of the country to NATO starts Azerbaijan will have to carry out some reforms and partnership actions. If members of the Alliance come to an opinion that the policy conducted by Baku meets the NATOвЂ™s policy, then the Alliance could take a concrete decision in this respect.