Azerbaijan, Baku, April 6 / Trend , N. Abdullayeva/
Interview by H.E. Mr. Nicolae Ureche Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Azerbaijan for Trend
- How do you evaluate the present level of the bilateral relations between Romania and Azerbaijan and the forthcoming visit to Romania of Mr. Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan?
I have no hesitations in saying that Romanian-Azerbaijani relations are excellent. Since the very beginning of establishing diplomatic relations, in 1992, a long and productive series of political contacts at all levels and especially at the level of the President, consolidated these excellent political relations between our countries. The dialogue of the presidents of our countries constantly pushed up the bilateral cooperation. The forthcoming visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Romania will be a new important moment for strengthening the strategic partnership between our two countries. It will be the 4th visit to Romania, in three years, of President Ilham Aliyev, and we consider this is as a very good score, a substantial proof of the importance of the bilateral relations. The visit will offer good opportunities to review the present stage of our bilateral relations and to make decisions for their future evolution. By tradition, the visit will be also the appropriate occasion to sign new bilateral agreements. Talking about bilateral agreements, I have to say that we have a good and solid inventory of more than 50 bilateral agreements, modern, fully harmonized with the European Union legislation. I am confident that the forthcoming visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Romania will be a new milestone for our bilateral relations.
- What is the official position of Romania on the issue of Nagorno Karabakh? How do you evaluate the perspectives of solving the conflict?
Romania supports the peaceful settlement of Nagorno Karabakh conflict, on the bases of international principles, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, and in accordance with the UN and OSCE relevant resolutions. The President of Romania, Mr. Traian Basescu, clearly express this position of Romania, not only in Baku but also in other Capitals, during official discussions or in international conferences, asking for the full observance of the international law principles, starting with the territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. It is our strong belief that these principles should remain the core of international law. As an EU member state, Romania strongly shares and promotes the position of the EU, to support the solving of the conflict by peaceful means, under the mediation of OSCE Minsk Group. The strong will of the EU is that the conflict be solved by peaceful means, through dialogue between the two involved sides. Together with the other EU member states, Romania is very ready to bring its contribution to an EU programme for confidence building measures, to speed up the solving of the conflict. Also, in the post-conflict period, Romania will support the EU contribution to the reconstruction of the region. Romania welcomes the intensification of diplomatic negotiations, which this year already has reached a good result at the presidential meeting in Zurich, in January 2009. We hope that the efforts will bring new positive results. At the same time, we are concerned with the increasing number of almost daily military incidents on the front-line, which quite often bring new causalities. This is one more strong reason to express our support for an as soon as possible peaceful and durable solution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Personally I have the desire to witness as soon as possible the solving by peaceful means of this too long lasting [a] conflict.
- Azerbaijan is part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and of NATO Partnership for Peace Programme. How can Romania, a NATO and EU member state, to support the improvement of Azerbaijan relations with these organizations?
A. Given the recent developments in the region, Romania is determined to further consolidate its natural links with the states in the Caucasus. Romania, as an EU and NATO country bordering the Black Sea, is interested in an enhanced dialogue and cooperation with the states in this region and has been actively involved in the EU initiatives and instruments in the region (European Neighborhood Policy, Eastern Partnership and Black Sea Synergy). A new instrument of cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan is the Eastern Partnership, which officially will be launched next month, in May 2009, in Prague. All proposed targets of this new instrument are of real interest for the six Eastern European states involved, Azerbaijan included: closer economic cooperation with the EU, liberalization of trade, support for internal reforms, cooperation in the field of migration, visa facilitation, etc. Talking about visas, I have the pleasure to remind you that starting with the 1st of November, 2008, the Romanian Government decided to simplify the visa regime for the Azerbaijani citizens who, since then, can easier travel to my country. Romania supports the involvement of the Eastern partners, in defining the areas of cooperation and the concrete projects, both in order to avoid overlapping with existing mechanisms and to strengthen the principle of common ownership.
Now, concerning NATO. Romania has applied to assume the role of NATO Contact Point Embassy in Baku, with the strong commitment to support Azerbaijan's efforts to strengthen its relation with the Alliance. We trust that our efforts will contribute to the successful implementation of IPAP II, as well as a better coordination of the efforts made by NATO and Azerbaijan to stabilize the political situation in Afghanistan. Another important target of our job is to bring our own contribution to the better information of the Azerbaijani public opinion on the main tasks and objectives of NATO. We believe that we have the experience, the expertise and the support of all NATO countries for the effective completion of this task during the next two years. We know that the good job done by Turkey in this position before, for more than 16 years, is a real challenge for us, but I trust that Romania will provide a suitable follow-up and in the end Azerbaijan will benefit of that.
In our capacity of Contact Point Embassy we intend to target not only the political elite, but the simple citizens in this country as well and I believe that journalists, public and university libraries and even businessman in this country can be of help in making NATO better known and understood. Next to this activity we are supposed to give the logistical support during the visits of NATO officials in Azerbaijan, arrange programs and meetings organize conferences and seminars, political discussions and debates. In fulfilling these tasks we also count on the full support of the Azerbaijani authorities and on the help of all NATO country Embassies represented in Baku.
Romania was and will be a reliable partner of Azerbaijan, always willing to intensify our political contacts at all levels and to further develop our collaboration in multilateral organizations.
- What is the stage of economic relations between Romania and Azerbaijan?
To give you a straight answer, the present stage is not bad, but for sure is under the economic potential of our two countries. Romania is really interested to give a positive impetus to our economic cooperation. Bilateral economic relations between Romania and Azerbaijan continued their upwards trend, proved by a total turnover of 192.9 million dollars in January-November 2008, with a solid Azerbaijani export in Romania of 161 million dollars and imports of 31.83 million dollars. As a comparison, in 2004 the turnover was of 9 million dollars only. But, it is very clear that the present stage of the bilateral trade is far behind the potential of the two countries.
We expect that the 4th Session of the Joint Economic Commission to be organized this year in Baku shall further boost our economic cooperation, a strong catalyst in this respect being a series of export promotion activities intended by the economic department of the Embassy. These will include round tables and meetings with the business community here interested in business and investments in Romania. Also, several representatives of Romanian companies will be present in Baku in the second half of this year to meet directly with their Azerbaijani counterparts.
Taking into consideration the common willingness to enhance cooperation as well as Romania's position on the direct and shortest route to the European market, I believe that Romania can be a gateway to Europe for the constantly growing Azerbaijani economy.
- Which areas of the Azerbaijani economy are of interest for Romanian investments?
Energy remains an important area of interest both for Romania and Azerbaijan. During the official visit of President Traian Basescu to Azerbaijan in October 2006, setting up a strategic partnership in this field was proposed, aimed at covering all aspects of this cooperation. All the presidential visits that followed approached all issues of energy cooperation, evaluating the developments and intensifying the cooperation in this field. But concrete measures were also taken at the working level. Even if results are coming a little slower than expected we maintain our optimism and trust that the important cooperation projects shall be put into practice.
Romania is also interested in intensifying the collaboration in the field of transportation. We have projects aimed at increasing the transit of goods from the Caucasus and Central Asia via the Black Sea and the Danube to the Western Europe and Azerbaijan could help transforming the Romanian Port of Constanta in a main gateway for the general goods going to Europe. Supporting the existing TRACECA projects and revitalizing the Silk Road are objectives of interest for both our countries. Agriculture, food industry, constructions and textiles are other fields of a possible joint cooperation.
- Does the global financial crisis have an influence on the economic cooperation of the two countries, and particularly on the trade turnover?
The economic crisis started to affect both our countries, the effects being somehow similar: stagnation in real estate markets and banking that rapidly spreads in other sectors determining lay-offs in the affected companies and finally hitting each of us. To fight with this evil we need a mix of approaches, starting with a careful crisis management of the authorities but also with the strong weapon of cooperation at the international level. Romania is ready for a mutual advantageous cooperation with Azerbaijan and next to the already traditional energy business we are ready to get involved in any other non-oil business, like furniture, textiles, industrial equipments, ship-building and others. We know about the intention of Azerbaijan to develop a strong non oil sector, as a guarantee for a long term and equilibrated development of the country and we are ready to help the development of this process. For the time being, the world crisis did not affect too much our bilateral relations, and especially the turnover, which mainly consists of Romanian oil imports from Azerbaijan.