Exclusive interview of Trend with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdulla Gul
Question: How could you characterize the major principles of Ankaras foreign policy in respect to the South Caucasus countries? What are your visions on the nearest perspectives of development of cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan?
Answer: Provision of security and stability in the South Caucasus has always been a priority direction of our foreign policy. Our relationships with the countries of the region are based on deep historic and culture roots. In this context we attach special importance to see in the South Caucasus independent, peacefully co-existing and cooperating countries with firm political and economic stability, as well as economic assistance to these countries.
The strategic cooperation and friendly relationships of Turkey with Azerbaijan and Georgia get more and more intensified. Turkey with satisfaction observes and simultaneously supports the aspiration of both countries to acquiring a deserved place in the world community. We put successive efforts for consolidation of independence and sovereignty, as well as maintenance of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Georgia.
We pay special attention to the relationships between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which were very good characterized by former late Azerbaijani Heydar Aliyev as one nation, two countries. The development of bilateral relationships in all spheres excites satisfaction. With respect to enable Azerbaijan to overcome the difficulties that evolved after independence Turkey has rendered a comprehensive support to Baku in the military, financial, technical, human and education spheres. Such support and assistance will continue in future.
Democratization of the South Caucasus is one of the major goals of Turkeys foreign policy. We consider democracy as a warranty of a long-term stability. It is important to provide an opportunity for statement of position through democratic channels in the context of development of pluralist democracy of oppositional establishments functioning within the constitutional frames. Despite some shortages the 6 November parliamentary elections in 2005 were a stage in the development of democracy in Azerbaijan. Uninterrupted continuation of the process of democratization and implementation of reforms in this respect are very important.
We share with fraternal Azerbaijan the common human notions like democracy, the superiority of the law, and respect to human rights and freedom. We will continue supporting the efforts of the Azerbaijani authorities in the establishment of democratic institutions in the country, as well as the upgrade of the market economy.
Our common will is further development of economic and trade relationships, which have great potential. Certainly, utilization of the economic potential based on rich natural resources of the Caspian Sea will benefit not only Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also the entire region.
Along with the bilateral relationships with the South Caucasus countries Turkey gives priority to the development of regional cooperation. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia jointly carry out several projects and each of them can be characterized as a formula of success. The commencement of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export oil pipeline in 2006, the scheduled completion of the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline, as well as continuation of engineering work under the construction of Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku (KATB) railway route, that we wish to put into exploitation in the nearest future, are only few of these important projects.
Question: What is Turkeys position in the issue of resolution of conflict situations in the South Caucasus region? Is it possible to expect from Ankara any official initiative on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer: Since the completion of the cold war [and even now] the South Caucasus has become as arena of dramatic events. The collisions on interethnic basis and territorial issues resulted in death of thousands of people, while ten thousands of people became homeless. The unsettlement of suspended conflicts is great hindrance in the way of establishment of durable stability and prosperity of the region.
Today the South Caucasus region with its rich natural wealth and special geographic location has become one of the centers of attention of the world community. It is necessary to benefit the attention of the international community in the process of settlement of regional conflicts.
Manifestation of any instability in the region is actually a potential which negatively impacts on Turkeys interests. Therefore, it is very important to intensify the efforts for peaceable resolution of conflicts, which will be recognized by all sides and be based on major principles of the international law.
Major principles that our positions are based in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem are well known. The conflict provoked by Armenia through the violation of the principles of the international law, including the inviolability of the state borders by force and respect to the territorial integrity, concerns not only the countries of the region, but also all sides interested in peace, stability and tranquility in the south Caucasus.
Turkey, being a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, attentively observes a process of the conflict resolution. We hope that under the Paris format it will be possible to promote the peaceable resolution of the conflict. It is important to continue the dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the level of Presidents and Foreign Ministers.
Undoubtedly, the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will greatly contribute the development of regional cooperation and normalization of the relationships between Armenia and Turkey. As a member of the OSCE Minsk Group we still believe in the necessity of active contribution in the search of ways of resolution.
We still see a platform enabling for the resolution of the conflict at the OSCE Minsk Group. At the same time we are sure that far-sighted and more multifaceted approach, as well as creative innovations will be profitable to remove the exiting disagreements.
Absence of any progress in the resolution of the conflict in the course of the meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents held in Paris on 10-11 February 2006 actually disappointed the world community. It would be profitable for all to continue in 2006 the efforts for the solution of the conflict.
Question: What steps does Turkey plan to take to ensure the security of huge regional energy projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline?
Answer: Over the past 28 years Turkey has used the Kerkek-Yumurtalik pipeline, while starting from 2002 the Iranian gas pipeline. So far, no negative moment linked with the security problems has been observed in the Turkish sections of the pipelines. I mean, we can say that Turkey has sufficient experience in the energy security of pipelines. Even Turkey can be regarded as one of the more experienced countries throughout the world.
In the context of Article 7 of the Protocol on security of the East-West energy corridor, which covers the said projects, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia established a joint Commission on the security of pipelines. The first meeting of the commission was held on 14 October 2004 in Ankara with participation of representatives from the three countries.
The gathering focused on the opportunities for development of cooperation with respect to ensure the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
Turkey accepts the security of the pipelines running via its territory as an inseparable part of its energy security and approaches the issue with more responsibility.
Question: What work does Turkey intend to do under the implementation of the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway project?
Answer: The KATB railway project envisages the construction of a regional railway route between Turkey and Georgia with further connection to it of a railway network existing in Azerbaijan, which is sure to lead to the establishment of up-to-date railway road system connecting three countries.
The KATB project opens new opportunities for cargo deliveries between Asia and Europe. In case of Marmara project (the construction of a railway section under Bosporus Trend) is connected to the east with the expected railway-sea route between Baku and Kazakhstan (Aktau) and onwards to China, the KATB will become a part of the shorter railway route between Asia and Europe as compared to those existing.
On 28 December 2004 Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed a protocol on the KATB project. In compliance with the document, technical work under the project is carried out by a joint working group.
On 25 May 2005 the heads of three countries, who participated in a ceremony of linefill of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan with the first oil, signed a statement in support to the KATB project.
The Transport Ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia held talks in Istanbul on 19 September 2005 to discuss the processes concerning the KATB project, as well as definition of future concrete steps in this respect. In the end of the meeting they took a resolution on signing of an intergovernmental agreement, as well as commencement of the work on financial provision of the project shortly.
The feasibility work within the framework of the project, which is being carried out by one of the Turkish companies and financed by Turkey, is scheduled to complete in 2006.
The international tender under the KATB will be announced after the completion of the project work.
Question: How do you estimate the development of the Azerbaijani-Turkish cooperation under the international organizations, in particular the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), UN, and the Council of Europe?
Answer: Cooperation of Turkey with the friendly and fraternal Azerbaijan under the OIC, like in all other spheres, is distinguished for proximity in the positions and constructive character. Turkey heads the list of states with more active support to Azerbaijan at the OIC. During the chairmanship at the 31st session of the Ministerial Board of the OIC Turkey rendered a comprehensive assistance to Azerbaijan.
As one knows, on 19-21 June 2006 Baku will host the 33rd meeting of the OIC ministers and Azerbaijan will undertake the chairmanship-in-office at the organization from Yemen. Azerbaijan will become the OIC chairman-in-office in the period of changes in the global policy when a regional apprehensibility and expectations of all member-countries increase. Indeed, we will boost the support to Baku in these conditions.
We note with satisfaction the cooperation with friendly and fraternal Azerbaijan at the UN. Turkey is a candidate to temporary membership at the UN Security Council for 2009-2010 and the elections will be held at the 63rd UN Assembly due in 2008. A statement on support by friendly and fraternal Azerbaijan to the candidacy of Turkey was welcomed by Ankara. Turkey also backed the candidacy of Azerbaijan at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2006-2008. Besides, Turkey will back the candidacy of Azerbaijan to temporary membership at the UN Security Council in 2012-2013.
The level of the Azerbaijani-Turkish cooperation within the framework of the CE is also worth approval. As one of founders of the CE, Turkey shares its 50-year experience with Azerbaijan, which entered the CE in 2001. The cooperation under the CE actively continues at the Ministerial Committee, Parliamentary Assembly, as well as the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Such cooperation provides for more efficient resistance to problems which both countries face at the CE, as well as more successful support to positive milestones. The PACE winter session held from 23 to 27 January 2006 hosted discussions on the mandate of Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation can be the best model of successful interaction.
Obviously, the cooperation benefits both countries and we wish to enhance it.