Priorities of Azerbaijan's foreign policy
While on an official visit to Russia, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council Ilyas Umakhanov, Deputy Prime Minister, co-chairman of the Russia-Azerbaijan Intergovernmental Commission Dmitry Rogozin, laid wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Kremlin, and gave a lecture on Azerbaijan's foreign policy priorities at the Diplomatic Academy.
Mammadyarov called the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Azerbaijan's main problem: "We always say that this conflict should be resolved peacefully, through political means. Yesterday we discussed this issue in detail with Sergey Viktorovich [Lavrov]. I must admit, this topic is being discussed not only at the level of ministers, but also at the level of presidents. Last time was in August of 2016, when Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] directly invited both Azerbaijani President [Ilham Aliyev] and Armenian President [Serzh Sargsyan] to find breakthrough elements in the settlement. Unfortunately, the process has stalled. Political will is necessary is necessary to resolve this conflict, because the settlement plan is already clear."
The first step, according to him, is the most difficult, but also the most necessary: "It's necessary to resolve security issues, troops must return to their barracks. In other words, Armenia must withdraw its troops from the occupied areas near Nagorno-Karabakh, and international peacekeeping forces must be located on the administrative border instead of them. It will give internally displaced persons the opportunity to return to their homes, because, as you known, there was a total ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. At the same time, we must build railways and highways." Mammadyarov noted that in this case, there will be closer economic ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as in the entire region, and negotiations will continue with the understanding that there will be a day when they can agree on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. People are dying on the contact line every day. Foreign Minister called the proposed confidence-building measures interesting, but also stressed: "Let's establish an investigating mechanism on the front line. It's possible, but it should be part of a larger plan on withdrawal of troops. If there won't be any troops, there will be no incidents."
"At the beginning of this century, energy sphere was the locomotive of our economy - oil, gas, construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which produced one million barrels per day at the peak. That's why today both Baku and regions are developing very intensively. But after the oil prices have dropped, we face situation when economic diversification is necessary. When the price dropped three times, it has created serious problems for the budget and the economy, GDP has declined. But now, when we planned the budget with the price of $40 per barrel, while current price is $55, a stability can be achieved," he said.
According to him, the government carries out huge reforms, aimed at reorganization, helping entrepreneurs, privatization and investments. "There are several directions in Azerbaijan, some of them concern on foreign policy. First of all, of course, I'm talking about the field of transport. When we're talking about transport corridors like East-West or North-South, we're not sure which one of them is the priority. Considering geographical location of my country, both projects are attractive and interesting. On Sunday, my country's President Ilham Aliyev visited Tehran, last year Russian, Azerbaijani and Iranian summit was held in Baku, and we have adopted a declaration on the development of the North-South transport corridor. The reports show that if you connect Persian or Arabian Gulf, depending on the priorities, from Iran's Bender-Abbas seaport with access to the St. Petersburg port and attract goods from India or China, then the sea route from Mumbai to St. Petersburg, for example, takes about 4 days, and if the same cargo will be sent via Bender-Abbas to St. Petersburg, then it wil take 13 or 14 days. We still have to do a lot of things. The Iranian side should build railway section with the length of about 150-kilometers. This was discussed in detail. Azerbaijan is even ready to invest in this project. There are problems of customs and border services, but it's possible that over the next 2-3 years this transport corridor will finally start its work," Foreign Minister noted.
Fight against terrorism
"Terrorism is a common evil. What happens in the Greater Middle East, which is not too far from Azerbaijan, is constantly on our agenda. Azerbaijan actively works with leading partners, and the fight against terrorism is one of the priorities in contacts with our partners - the EU, the US, and the Russian Federation," Mammadyarov stressed.
Relations with the EU
"Although we are part of the Eastern Partnership (six countries of the former USSR), but Azerbaijan has its own vision of relations with the EU - agreement on strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the European Union. For the first time in history of the EU, this document was prepared by us and sent to Brussels. After 1.5 years, in February of this year, they received the approval of the Council of Europe. We have already began direct talks on the level of strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the European Union," he said.
Relations with the US
"Americans are pretty difficult partners, they don't always hear you, they think that everything they say is true. In any case, our relations with the United States are developing quite steadily. One of the main topics is the fight against terrorism. We assist them in Afghanistan - their aviation flies over Azerbaijan, they deliver everything through Azerbaijan. We are working very actively, both with previous Karzai administration and with current Afghan leader Ghani. We have partnership with the United States in this context. This partnership is developing quite successfully. In addition, of course, there's also energy component. As for other issues, they criticize us on the issues of human rights and democracy, just like they criticize you. These are rules of the game," Mammadyarov noted.
Relations with Turkey
"Turkey is our close partner, we're close both in spirit and language. The relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey are developing very dynamically, successfully, most of our energy projects pass through Turkey. By summer of this year we will open railway systems, which will pass through Georgia and Turkey. Unfortunately, due to the conflict with Armenia, railway that existed since Nicholas II and passed through Azerbaijan and through Armenia with access to Iran and the Gulf doesn't work anymore. Those territories are occupied, and everything that could be stolen was stolen. That's why it was decided to complete section on Georgia's territory, it already operates on the border with Turkey. Turks say that they will complete their section from Kars to the border with Georgia by April. It will also provide additional diversification to the development of our economy," he believes.
Relations with Iran and Caspian issue
"Iran is our big neighbor. There is a multi-million community of Azerbaijanis in Iran, so we have to ensure appropriate conditions for the development of relations. Unfortunately, we just can't agree on the legal status of the Caspian region. Azerbaijan has already finished negotiations with Russia and Kazakhstan, we just have to resolve problems between Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The median line has already been approved by us, Russia and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan kinda supports it, the only problem is how to measure the coastline. Our Turkmen partners believe that it will take some time to resolve this issue. Meanwhile, Iran has its own vision. But they gradually understand the fact that it's necessary to resolve this issue as soon as possible," Elmar Mamedyarov concluded.