Weekly political digest (13.07- 17.07.2009)
The Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with British Prime-Minister Gordon Brown on July 13. British Prime-Minister congratulated the Azerbaijani President with success achieved in economic sphere. Gordon Brown stressed high level of relations between two countries in different spheres, including economic.
Concerning Azerbaijan's participation in anti-terrorist coalition, Brown said that the British government highly appreciates Azerbaijani activity on this regards. Congratulating the Azerbaijani President with achievements in democracy, British Prime-Minister named extension of relations between EU and Azerbaijan as positive event. "We can expand political, economic and other relations with Azerbaijan," Brown said.
The Azerbaijani President said that political, economic and other relations develop between two countries successfully. "Relations between BP and Azerbaijan develop successfully many years. There are prospects in development of relations in other spheres too," the Azerbaijani president said. Ilham Aliyev spoke in details about success of Azerbaijan in economy, energy and non-oil sector.
As to Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijani president said that Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan creates significant obstacle for development of the region.
The memorandum on mutual understanding was signed between the Azerbaijani state oil company and BP after the meeting. The document was signed by president of the Azerbaijani state oil company Rovnag Abdullayev and BP president of production Andy Inglis.
On July 14, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Aliyeva met with Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and North Ireland at Buckingham Palace. On that day, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Aliyeva had a dinner with Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with the members of the international relations committee of Parliament of Great Britain. Chairman of the Parliament's committee Michael Gapes stressed the importance of official visit of Azerbaijan President in developing bilateral relations between the two countries. Noting the importance of the achievements of Azerbaijan in the energy sector, Gapes asked the opinion of President Aliyev on co-operation in this regard.
President Ilham Aliyev said that the relations between Azerbaijan and Great Britain successfully develop in many directions, and spoke about the development processes in the Republic.
The Head of State said that Azerbaijan is constantly expanding relations with the European Union.
Speaking of the current active political dialogue between the two countries, President Ilham Aliyev highlighted successful bilateral relationship within anti-terrorist coalition, in the fields of energy and security and in other directions. Touching upon the role of Azerbaijan in the European energy security, the Head of State said that Azerbaijan is an important supplier of energy resources to Europe. President Ilham Aliyev informed the committee members of the negotiation process to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has met on Tuesday in London British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband. They praised the relations between the two countries, saying they are being developed.
President Ilham Aliyev and Ed Miliband hailed an agreement signed yesterday between Azerbaijan`s State Oil Company and BP, and described it as an evidence that the two countries are reliable energy partners and there are good prospects for cooperation.
On July 14, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev met current chair of British Council Gerard Lemos. The President praised the activity of the British Council in Azerbaijan. Gerard Lemos spoke of the council's further plans in Azerbaijan, which include conducting cultural projects among others.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has today ended his official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
At the Heathrow Airport, the Azerbaijani President and his spouse Mehriban Aliyeva were seen off by top-ranking British state and government officials.
On July 16, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received a delegation headed by OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. The meeting focused on exchange of views on successful development of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the OSCE, as well as the current state and perspectives of negotiations held within the OSCE Minsk Group on peaceful resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has today left for Russia. At the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, the President was seen off by Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, Chief of the Presidential Administration Ramiz Mehdiyev and Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalybov.
The Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed the decree to give rank of Honored lawyer f the Azerbaijani Republic to chairman of the constitutional court Abdullayev Farhad Sahib oglu for long work in Azerbaijani court system on July 16.
The Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev congratulated the French President Nicolas Sarkozy with national holiday - Bastille Day. "I congratulate you and friendly people of France with national holiday of Bastille Day. We attach great importance to Azerbaijani-French relations. I am very glad that relations between two countries led to multilateral cooperation," the Azerbaijani President's message said. In his congratulatory letter, the Azerbaijani President stressed importance of cooperation between two countries within the international organizations and projects.
Ilham Aliyev expressed great hope for French efforts towards rapid settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh within OSCE Minsk Group. "I wish peace and welfare to you and all French people this remarkable day," the letter said.
President Ilham Aliyev sent a letter of condolence to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran over Tu-154 plane crash. "I was deeply grieved upon hearing the news about the crash of Caspian Airline`s Tu-154 plane, which claimed many lives of your compatriots. I share your sorrow over the tragedy occurred. On my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Azerbaijan, I offer my profound condolence to you, families and friends of the dead and all people of Iran. May Allah rest their souls in peace!" said the letter.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has today ended his working visit to Russia and returned home.
At the Vnukovo-2 International Airport, President Ilham Aliyev was seen of by Russia`s high ranking state and government officials. In the evening, the President arrived in Baku. At the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, President Ilham Aliyev was welcomed by Prime Minister Artur Rasizade and Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalybov.
Chairmen of committees of the Azerbaijani parliament offered to feature settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in strengthening of legal base of European security. "There is great need in improving security in Europe. Four UN resolutions remain unfulfilled concerning Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, result of Armenia's occupation policy towards Azerbaijan. OSCE Minsk Group did not achieve any results on this regards," chairman of Milli Majlis's (the Azerbaijani Parliament)
Committee on regional issues Arif Rahimzadeh said during the meeting of CIS inter-parliamentary assembly council and the international conference on security in Europe.
Roughly 100 MPs and experts from CIS countries and Europe participated in the meeting. Besides Arif Rahimzadeh, chairman of parliamentary committee for legal policy and state building Ali Huseynov and assistant of parliamentary speaker, permanent representative of Milli Majlis in Parliamentary Assembly of CIS Aydin Jafarov represented Azerbaijan.
Strenthening of cooperation between parliaments of CIS countries, exchange of experience in law-making, as well as security in Europe and solving of freezed conflicts in countries of the region were discussed at the meeting.
Azerbaijani report on human rights will be considered at the session of UN Human Rights Committee on July 20.
The 96-th session of UN Human Rights Committee launched its work in UN department in New York on July 13. The agenda includes consideration of governmental reports of Tanzania, the Netherlands, Chad, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, New Zealand and Uzbekistan on situation with political and civil rights in these countries.
Besides official reports of the governments, representatives of NGOs will be listened. Statements of private people will be considered.
Foreign minister of Sweden presiding in EU, Carl Bildt, will visit south Caucasus in a group of three on July 16-20, official message of Swedish chairmanship said.
A group of three includes representative of acting EU chairman-country, as well as representatives of previous and next chairmanship.
Meetings are expected to be held with presidents and foreign ministers in three countries.
This trip will also include visit of EU supervising mission to Georgia. The agenda of the meeting of foreign ministers of the EU countries includes prolongation of its mandate late July.
South Caucasus is one of spheres having strategic importance for EU. Eastern Partnership program means new potentialities to make contribution in stability and reforms in three countries of the region, EU message said.
Bildt will be accompanied by representatives of the European Commission Karel Kovanda and John Kjaer, EU special envoy for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby and representative of secretariat of EU Council Paolo Barroso Simos. Spanish ambassador to Central Asia Santiago Chamorro will represent next country to be presided in EU.
Azerbaijani foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov is expected to pay official visit to Ukraine in autumn, Ukrainian ambassador to Azerbaijan Boris Klimchuk said at the press-conference on July 16.
Prospects on bilateral cooperation in all spheres are expected to be discussed during the visit. Data of visit is under coordination.
Caspian Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan resumed talks on the delimitation of the Caspian Sea at the level of deputy foreign ministers.
According to the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, the meeting in Baku on July 16-17 is "the next stage of the current Turkmen-Azerbaijani negotiations on the delimitation of the seabed and subsoil of the Caspian Sea". As part of the new round of talks, it is planned to exchange views on issues, including the approaches of the two countries to such activities in the Caspian Sea, as shipping, fisheries, hydrology, meteorology, and others.
The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan had constructive meeting in Moscow, the Russian President's assistant Sergey Prihodko said, RIA Novosti said.
Leaders attended the races for the Russian President's prize at the central Moscow race track on July 18 in the morning. Later they continued trilateral talks on one of Moscow restaurants.
"During the fourth today's meeting of the Russian, the Azerbaijani and the Armenian presidents, Dmitry Medvedev confirmed readiness of Russia as co-chairman of Minsk Group (OSCE) to make efforts to find mutually acceptable ways to settle Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," Prihodko said. Leaders of three countries discussed further ways to solve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "According to the Russian side, long and very constructive meeting has been held. Several issues remained open were also discussed during the meeting," Prihodko said.
"The Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan expressed gratitude to Dmitry Medvedev for his efforts to make Armenian and Azerbaijani positions closer and promote Nagorno-Karabakh settlement," the Russian President's assistant said.
Azerbaijani Ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova will participate in an international human rights conference in Bishkek that opened today in the Kyrgyz capital with support from the OSCE Centre, the organization reported.
The three-day international human rights conference in Bishkek gathered Ombudspersons from more than 10 countries to discuss how human rights can be protected.
The Ombudsmen from Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine are participating in the meeting, as are Kyrgyz parliamentarians, officials, journalists and representatives of civil society and international organizations.
Participants will discuss human rights protection during political crises, international practices to prevent torture and how to promote a human rights-based approach in the work of government agencies, including the Ombudsman's Office.
The memorandum is expected to be signed during a visit of the delegation led by Constitutional Court chairman Farhad Abdullayev to Moldova, Constitutional Court press service said. Do you have any feedback? Contact our journalist at [email protected]
Abdullaev will visit Chisinau on July 21- 24 to participate in an international judicial forum held jointly by the Constitutional Court of Moldova and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
At the forum on the 15th anniversary of the Constitution of Moldova, Abdullaev will speak on "Protection of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Citizens by Means of Individual Complaint to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan."
On July 12, the Armenian Armed Forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops from an area outside the Marzili village of the Agdam region at 11:10-11:20 and from the nameless heights of the Goygol region at 14:00-14:15, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported. The Azerbaijani troops answered their fire. No causalities were reported.
The Azerbaijani parliamentary first vice-speaker hopes for advance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement after the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents' Moscow meeting.
"I expect advance from the presidents' Moscow meeting," the first vice-speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament, Ziyafat Asgarov told journalists on July 13.
He said the meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Presidents, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan will continue in future, as well. "I have got familiarization with the last principles of the Madrid Declaration only in media. I have not seen the paper. I am familiar with the declaration signed by the Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian presidents in Moscow. The paper notes Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is not a topic for discussions. I have no doubts that the conflict will be solved as part of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan," the first vice-speaker said.
Asgarov believes peaceful resolution of the conflict meets the both countries' interests. "But if the problem is not solved as part of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, start of military operations can be included in an agenda," he said
Azerbaijani ruling party believes in achievement of progress in settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at the meeting of the Azerbaijani and the Armenian presidents to be held in Moscow.
"Signing of statement by heads of three co-chairmen-countries of OSCE Minsk Group during the meeting of Big Eight countries (G8) and announcement of basis principles on settlement of conflict indicate on significant promotion in negotiating process," executive secretary of New Azerbaijan ruling party Ali Ahmedov told media on July 13.
Next meeting of the Azerbaijani and the Armenian presidents is positive fact amid these promotions in negotiating process, Akhmedov said. "One can suppose that progress reached earlier will be developed at the Moscow's meeting of presidents of both countries. From other side, if there was not any progress, there would be no necessity for presidents' meeting," executive secretary of ruling party said.
Many people realize that it is time for settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Akhmedov said. "It is not only conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Consequences of conflict impact situation in South Caucasus. It is impossible to ensure stability, security and cooperation in the region without its settlement. I think that Moscow realizes that one of important terms of settlement of processes causing anxiety in the south of Russia is settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," Akhmedov said.
International Alert organization is ready for assisting settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
"Settlement of South Caucasian conflicts is very important not only for this region but for entire world. International Alert is ready for assisting settlements of conflicts," director of organization program on Asia and Eurasia Phil Champaign said during round table Future of Karabakh - future of peacemaking initiatives in Baku on July 14.
International Alert operates in 20 world countries and deals with settlement of conflicts. But South Caucasus represents special interest for the organization, Champaign said during round table organized in strategic research center under the Azerbaijani President with participation of politicians, Azerbaijani MPs and experts.
"We hope that certain progress will be achieved in settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the nearest future," expert said.
On July 13, the Armenian Armed Forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops from nameless highlands in Khojavend region from 02:25 to 02:35 and positions near villages of Yusifjanli and Shikhlar of the Agdam region at 03:45 to 03:50, press-service of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said. The Azerbaijani troops answered their fire. No causalities were reported.
Monitoring was held on the contact line between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces on July 15 after a mandate by the special envoy of the OSCE chairman.
The monitoring near the Afatli village of Azerbaijan's Agdam region proceeded without incident on July 15, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported.
The monitoring was held on the Azerbaijani side by the OSCE Chairman's Personal Representative Imre Palatinus and Vladimir Chountulov.
The monitoring was held on the Armenian side by the OSCE Chairman's field assistants Pieter Ki, Antal Herdich and Irji Aberli.
On July 14, the Armenian Armed Forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops from the nameless heights of the Goranboy region at 20:15-20:25 and from an area outside the Ashagi Abdulrahmanli village of the Fuzuli region at 21:05-21:15, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported. The Azerbaijani troops answered their fire. No causalities were reported.
The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict depends on the processes in the international community and on the superpowers having an impact on Armenia, said the Deputy Executive Secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP).
"The international forces do not use the methods of pressure on the aggressor and this fact is one of reasons of non-resolution of the conflict. If the aggressor and those subjected to the aggression are treated the same, in this case, justice is violated and the resolution of the conflict is delayed," Member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, NAP Deputy Executive Secretary, Mubariz GurbanlI told Trend on July 15.
Last week, the U.S. Department of State which is one of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs divulged the six-point Madrid principles.
Gurbanli said the country must not agree with some provisions of the Madrid Principles, published last week. "Under these principles, a transitional stage should be supposedly formed which later will gradually reduce Azerbaijan's influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh. If the co-chairs believe these principles are encouraging, Azerbaijan fully disagrees with this," said Gurbanli.
President Ilham Aliyev has clearly stated Azerbaijan's position despite the Madrid principles promulgated recently. "In other words, no inch of land will be ceded and the conflict must be resolved as part of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity," the NAP official said.
Everybody must accept the Azerbaijani president's position, he said. "Therefore, I believe that the encouraging words sounded by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs do not indicate what principles they envisage. If they argue the views that are contrary to Azerbaijan's territorial integrity or maintenance of Azerbaijan's leadership over the Nagorno-Karabakh, then it is impossible," Gurbanli said.
Azerbaijan expressed today its satisfaction with NATO and its member states for their clear and firm support to its territorial integrity as it was indicated in the final document of the last NATO Summit in Strasbourg (France) and Kehl (Germany), Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said.
I delivered to the ambassadors of NATO the position of Azerbaijan to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before the Moscow Talks between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the minister said.
NATO is interested in exploring the ways to deepen the cooperation with Azerbaijan in the Interoperability within the IPAP, he added.
"We discussed also different ideas regarding the support to Afghani Government on military to military basis as well as on the civilian component. Azerbaijan is offering training courses for the young Afghani diplomats in the Diplomatic Academy in Baku, studies for the Afghani doctors in the Medical Academy for the Ministry of Defense and educational assistance for the border guards," Mammadyarov concluded.
On July 15, the Armenian Armed Forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops in the nameless heights of the Gazakh region at 18:10-18:20. The shots were fired from the nameless heights in Armenia's Noembryan region.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported that the Armenian soldiers fired at Azerbaijani troops from an area outside the Yusifjanli village in the Agdam region at 08:20-08:25 on July 16. The Azerbaijani troops answered their fire. No causalities were reported.
The Armenian government is under a permanent pressure of the opposition urging it to protect national interests and security of both Armenia and Karabakh, Armenian Political Scientist Richard Giragosian believes.
"While the Karabakh issue has always been a significant national issue for Armenians worldwide, there is also a new domestic political context, as the current Armenian government is under new pressure to ensure and protect the national interest and security of both Armenia and Karabakh," the Director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), Giragosian wrote to Trend an email.
On 15 July the Union of Armenian nationalists demanded from the government to resign or refuse from the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, since the basic principles of the Karabakh problem, formulated in the Madrid document, dated Nov. 29, 2007, contradict the interests of Armenia, Kommersant reported.
The nationalists were supported by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaksutyun, which plans to hold the rallies of opposition in Armenia and other countries, as well as demands resignation of Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The opposition has become more active in anticipation of Serzh Sargsyan's meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to be held at the informal CIS summit in Moscow on July 18. In doing so, Russian President's Aide Sergey Prikhodko said it was not planned to sign any documents at that meeting.
Clearly, the recent increase in diplomatic and political activity over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has brought new pressure on all sides, including Azerbaijan as well as Armenia, Giragosian believes.
"But for Armenia, there is an added pressure from the Armenian Diaspora, which is now very concerned over any approaching agreement with Azerbaijan," he said.
The main purpose of the Armenian lobby, whose backbone is the Armenian Diaspora in the United States is the international recognition of "Armenian genocide" in 1915, self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh, and observation of the rights of the Armenian community in Georgia.
The upcoming meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will also pose a test for the Armenian leadership, as Armenians throughout the world will be closely watching and carefully listening to every gesture and each word during that meeting, Giragosian believes.
"At the same time, the current Armenian government remains under constant attack by the country's opposition, thereby raising the stakes and increasing expectations, as well as exacerbating the pressure already being exerted on Yerevan," he said.
The Azerbaijani defense ministry spread information about another captive Armenian military man.
"Armenian military man was captured in the territory of Gadabay region on contact line of Armenian-Azerbaijani troops on July 15 at night," head of press-service of the defense ministry lieutenant-colonel Eldar Sabiroglu said on July 16.
According to him, resident of Yerevan Karen Norigovich Harutunian, 19, soldier of 549-motorifle battalion of Armenian defense ministry could not stand tortures of colleagues and decided to leave service. "Armenian military man passed border and gave himself up to Azerbaijani soldiers," he said.
On July 16, the Armenian Armed Forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops from an area outside the Kuropatkino village of the Khojavand region at 09:00-09:23, from the nameless heights and near the Tapgaragoyunlu and Gulustan villages of the Goranboy region at 15:05-15:15 and 19:30-20:25, respectively, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported. The Azerbaijani troops answered their fire. No causalities were reported.
Armenia and Azerbaijan should make concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement, OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut believes.
"I believe today's Moscow meeting between Azerbaijani and Armenian Presidents, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan is an important stage," Brichambaut said at a news conference on the results of his visit to Azerbaijan in Baku on July 17.
The OSCE Secretary General has attached great importance to the statement by the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair-countries (Russia, United States and France) during the G-8 summit in the Italian L'Aquila city which as he states, "testifies importance of the resolution of this conflict".
It is noteworthy that a strong revival is observed in the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs' activities, the Secretary General said.
"Yesterday during the meeting with President Aliyev, I witnessed his interest in the progress of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. I hope that this conflict will soon be resolved," Brichambaut said.
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan held talks in Moscow on the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The follow-up information for the press was not disclosed.
July 18, there is expected a tripartite meeting of Heads of Azerbaijan and Armenia with the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev.
Religious leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia will meet to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is also planned to continue the tripartite summit of the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Russian Orthodox Churches, as well as the head of the Caucasus Muslims Office Sheikhulislam Haji Allahshukur Pashazadeh in Moscow under mediation by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, the Armenian media writes.
Such an agreement was reached during the meeting between the Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II with the Patriarch Kirill during as part of the visit of the head of the Armenian Church to Moscow.
Catholicos of All Armenians visited Moscow on July 14-16.
On July 18, the Armenian Armed Forces opened fire at Azerbaijani troops from the nameless heights of the Fuzuli region at 01:10-01:25, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported. The Azerbaijani troops answered their fire. No causalities were reported.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents have instructed their foreign ministers to jointly work with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs on the Nagorno-Karabakh to organize a new high-level meeting in autumn. This is the result of the Moscow meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan on July 17, the presidential press service told ITAR TASS in Yerevan.
The parties "have demonstrated a constructive attitude to continue negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict," the press service said.
The Moscow meeting began with the participation of foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov and Edward Nalbandyan and the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Yuri Merzlyakov /Russia/, Bernard Fassier /France/, and Matthew Bryza /U.S./ as well as the OSCE Chairman Special Envoy Andzey Kasprzyk. Then the presidents continued the twosome negotiations, after which the ministers and the co-chairs again joined them.