Farhad Mammadov: "In order to establish trust between peoples, they must withdraw occupying troops from Azerbaijan"

A little less than a year has passed since the April clashes for Karabakh, during which for the first time since introduction of the ceasefire in 1994 status quo has change and the occupied territories of Azerbaijan were liberated, but tensions between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops on the contact line arise once again, clashes are becoming more frequent and more bloody. In anticipation of the anniversary of the anniversary of the April 2016 events Vestnik Kavkaza spoke with the director of the Baku Center for Strategic Studies Farhad Mammadov.

- How far did the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict advance over the past 11 months? 

- With regard to the recent escalation on the contact line, the Azerbaijani position is clear, it was stated by the president and is based on international law - escalation can be avoided if  the settlement process is started, and the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan should be its first step. It is necessary to solve the issues that can be resolved now, and those issues that require further study should be postponed. The Karabakh settlement consists of several knots, and it is impossible to untie these knots at once. When you untie a knot, you change the situation and create conditions for the outbreak of the next knot.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan states that the attention to the Karabakh conflict from the OSCE Minsk Group remains at a low level. The US State Department has not yet decided on the priorities in this regard. In France, the presidential elections are approaching, and there is quite a tough competition, and the hallmark of the French electoral system is that foreign policy issues are in the top in the local discourse. Russia is the main moderator of the process, which has began in April. But we would like the co-chairs' activities were not limited to repeating the "sacred mantra" regarding the monitoring group, which is obliged to run on the line of contact with the camera and film who attacked whom. It is inefficient, these are cosmetic items, which will not solve the issues in general. Azerbaijan stands for substantive negotiations, for the beginning of the settlement process, which, incidentally, does not clarify all the issues, in particular, leaves the question of Karabakh's status open. This question cannot be solved immediately, because first they need to create trust conditions. And trust will be formed after the withdrawal of the occupying Armenian armed forces, after unlocking the borders of Armenia, after creating an atmosphere in which they can speak about the status, about the rights of not just Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also of 700 thousand Azeri refugees who fled the region as a result of ethnic cleaning.

- How do you see the US policy towards the South Caucasus?

- After the new administration came to power, there has been a hope that it will start addressing global issues, but recent developments show that the White House was not able to achieve the goals that were set before the election. Today, there is a correction between what they want and what they are really capable of.

As for the South Caucasus, then, in my opinion, it is not a priority for the United States now. It was proved by the fact that after the dismissal of the US OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair James Warlick, a new co-chair has been not appointed - this function is temporarily performed by one of the diplomats of the US State Department.

On the other hand, the trends that develop in the United States ties with the neighbors in our region are important for us. These are the US-Turkey relations, the relations between the United States and Iran, the US and Russia. Both the president and the head of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan have repeatedly stated that the country would not want the deterioration of relations between global players and our regional neighbors. Otherwise, we will become a space for the fight, which Azerbaijan never wanted to happen, it has never performed this function.

Iran will hold the presidential elections in May. Perhaps by the summer there will be some clarity on Tehran in the US policy. Barack Obama had taken concrete steps once, and the point of no return on the Iranian nuclear program has been passed. The Trump administration cannot accuse Iran of non-compliance with the obligations that it has assumed. Introducing the new sanctions would not be fair. I think that the international community and the UN Security Council will play a role in preventing the worsening conflict with Tehran, which is playing a positive role in the Syrian conflict. These are interrelated processes. For Azerbaijan, it is important that such global players as the US and China would not have had sharp differences with the neighbors in the region in the face of Russia, Turkey and Iran.

- In your opinion, how do the processes occurring in the Middle East affect the South Caucasus?

- Middle East processes is one of the global policy trends. Middle East is the neighboring region to the South Caucasus, and what is happening there affects both Azerbaijan and the entire Caucasus region as a whole. The main problem in the region is the Syrian conflict, and I was encouraged by the process that began in the end of last year - a constructive interaction between Russia, Turkey and Iran, a synchronization of diplomatic and military activities between the three countries. It is very important for Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus as a whole. Interestingly, neither Russia nor Turkey, nor Iran have no common borders with all three countries of the South Caucasus. In trade relations with the South Caucasus countries Turkey is in the first place, Russia is the second, Iran is the third, but in numerical terms, they have almost the same turnover. Meanwhile, if these three countries synchronize their positions on Syria, find the general solution of this issue, start to work together across the spectrum of foreign policy agenda, it will have a positive impact on their cooperation in the South Caucasus region as well. Historically, Russia, Turkey and Iran are competitors in our region, but a new trend suggests that they will increase cooperation, follow rather a constructive path than the path of rivalry and competition.

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