Elmar Mammadyarov: "The Caspian Sea must unite us, but not limit”
This week, Kazakhstan will host a summit of the heads of the Caspian states, during which the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea is expected to be signed. The document was developed for more than 20 years. Correspondent of RIA Novosti Vugar Hasanov spoke with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov about the difficulties of the talks, some aspects of the convention, as well as the details of the upcoming summit.
- How does Azerbaijan assess the forthcoming Caspian summit in Kazakhstan? Will the Draft Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea be signed?
- I must say at once that the tremendous work carried out for many years brought its fruits, which allowed reaching an agreement on the draft Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. This created all the necessary prerequisites for its signing at the 5th summit of the heads of the Caspian states in Kazakhstan.
- Did Baku have any special comments on the text of the Convention? Was there any discussion on this issue with other Caspian countries, in particular with Russia?
- All countries had comments on the text of the Convention. This is a very common international practice for the development of such types of legal documents. As everyone knows, in 1996 an ad hoc working group was set up at the level of deputy ministers of foreign affairs of the Caspian littoral states on the development of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. 51 meetings were held within the framework of this format. Naturally, during the whole period of coordinating the positions of the sides, the contacts were made between the participants, including the traditional Azerbaijani-Russian consultations on the Caspian issues.
- As far as we know, under the draft convention, the countries agreed to the military non-presence of third countries in the Caspian. How problematic is the implementation of this issue, taking into account the processes in the region, and the interest of third countries in such presence?
- The parties signing this kind of document, thereby consolidate the rights reflected in it and assume the obligations arising from it. Proceeding from the universal principle of pacta sunt servanda, we should firmly adhere to those provisions that are established in the convention. The non-presence in the Caspian of the armed forces of the non-coastal countries is one of such agreed points. On the whole, the document proclaims that the Caspian is a zone of peace, good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation. It is and must remain the bridge that unites our countries, not limiting, but expanding their capabilities, providing each of them with optimal conditions for the development of the national economy. The Caspian countries have long enjoyed their rights and, within the framework of international cooperation, have created an efficient infrastructure for the exploitation of their resources. An appropriate investment climate has been created. The successes of our countries stipulate their positive attitude to the further development of cooperation in the Caspian, based on the existing mechanisms of confidence-building measures and partnership for the benefit of everyone.
- Do you plan to hold bilateral talks between the Azerbaijani president and the leaders of the Caspian states, including the Russian president? What is the main agenda of the meetings?
- The experience of the previous Caspian summit shows that they are also becoming a platform for holding bilateral meetings of the heads of state. At the same time, it is quite obvious that the main focus of the meetings in this five-sided format is on the Caspian issues, the organization of our cooperation in the Caspian, including security, transport, economic cooperation and the protection of biological resources.
- At what stage is the settlement of the Karabakh problem? Is there a likelihood of progress? How do you assess the contacts with your Armenian counterpart?
- The negotiation process on the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, has been going on for many years. As established in the document on its mandate, the Minsk Group is guided in its activities by the relevant norms and principles of the international law, the resolutions of the UN Security Council and the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. The international community supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within the internationally recognized borders. The settlement of the conflict should be based precisely on these key provisions. I would like to reiterate that the UN Security Council resolutions 822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993), 884 (1993), adopted on this subject, urgently demand the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of the occupation forces from the territories of the Azerbaijan Republic that they have occupied. As everybody knows, the UN Security Council resolutions do not have a statute of limitations and are subject to execution.
A step-by-step settlement model, proposed by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, has long been known to everyone. In the joint statements of the heads of Russia, the United States and France, the position on the unacceptability of the status quo based on the fact of occupation was repeatedly voiced. Alas, so far we have not been able to put an end to it. To advance the settlement process, we need to ensure the intensification of substantive negotiations on the basis of the existing format and within the existing agenda.
- According to the statement of the OSCE Minsk Group, the next meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia should be held soon. Is the date and place of the meeting already known?
- The meeting that was held in Brussels was the first meaningful contact with my new Armenian counterpart. As I have already noted, we are focused on the result and are ready to continue the intensive substantive dialogue in this direction. The places and dates of these meetings are technical moments, negotiated through the appropriate channels.
- Russia is considered the main moderator of the Karabakh settlement process. Is the meeting planned to be in the Moscow-Baku-Yerevan format?
- I repeat, Azerbaijan is open to the dialogue. But this should be meaningful and responsible negotiations focused on the result - the earliest start of the process of de-occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan. The Gordian knot was formed around this issue and it should be cut finally. Then the solution of all derivative problems that are more technical in nature will acquire a completely different character and will not be associated with such difficulties.
- What are the results of the new EU-Azerbaijan agreement? Will it be signed in 2018?
- The dialogue between Azerbaijan and the EU is being conducted for a long time on the basis of equality and mutually beneficial cooperation between the parties. The contacts recently held in Brussels with the leadership of the European Union demonstrated the correctness and justification of this approach. The process is developing in the right direction and will lead us to the signing of the ‘big agreement’ between two equal partners - Azerbaijan and the European Union.
- Is visa-free regime between Baku and the EU countries possible?
- Azerbaijan already has an effective mechanism of simplified visa issuance for the EU residents. The interaction in this sphere is successfully developing and will reach a level that meets the interests of both sides.
- Will Azerbaijan continue to pursue a balanced foreign policy, or will a choice be made in favor of any particular political or economic bloc?
- The foreign policy of Azerbaijan is not based on the principle of ‘whether this or that’, but has a balanced, multivectoral and inclusive character. We are confident that this course will continue to bear fruit and serve the course of our people and the region as a whole.