President of Azerbaijan and NATO Secretary General held a press conference
15 january 2014, 19:45
After the meeting of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a press conference was held.
First, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made statements for the press.
Statement by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
- Mr. President.
Welcome to Brussels again.
Our meeting today reflects NATO’s and your commitment to our partnership. This means that we are and will remain committed to the South Caucasus region. Azerbaijan is a country of vital importance for the energy security of Europe and for peace and stability in the Caucasus. At the same time, Azerbaijan is an important and valuable partner for NATO. We are grateful for the strong support provided by your forces in operations in Afghanistan. We are also grateful for the political support for NATO operations in the form of provision of airspace and transit routes. Finally, we say "thank you" for your noble support in the training of Afghan security forces.
Mr. President, I am grateful for the sustained support you will provide our new mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014 in issues such as training, consultation and assistance for Afghan security forces. It openly demonstrates your committed support for Euro-Atlantic security.
Today we have discussed the further development of cooperation between Azerbaijan and NATO. We intend to strengthen our political dialogue, including the discussion of strategic issues such as energy security and the fight against terrorism. The continuation of reforms is important for Azerbaijan as well. NATO will continue to assist you. I believe that we can deepen our dialogue and cooperation in many areas of our partnership.
This month we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our "Partnership for Peace" program. Our partnership for peace is based on democratic values and principles. Azerbaijan has been a strong partner of the program from the outset.
Mr. President, we have a solid framework for dialogue and cooperation. Today we have come to an agreement on the extension of our firm and lasting partnership.
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Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
- Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Thank you for the invitation. I am very glad to visit the NATO headquarters again and continue our discussions on the strategic dialogue between NATO and Azerbaijan.
This is my fifth visit to the NATO headquarters. This fact demonstrates the level of our cooperation. These years of cooperation, as well as our membership in the NATO "Partnership for Peace" program for 20 years, suggest that our relations have already reached the level of strategic cooperation.
Mr. Secretary General, I also remember your visit to Azerbaijan in 2012 and the discussions we held. Today we continued our discussion on many issues of our cooperation. As Mr. Secretary General has said, we have discussed issues relating to our participation in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. We will remain committed to ensuring security in Afghanistan beyond 2014 as well. Today, we can say that 40 per cent of non-destructive goods are delivered to Afghanistan through Azerbaijan. The route through Azerbaijan is the most reliable and secure. In other words, we will continue our efforts to promote peace and stability in our region.
At the same time, we also participated in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo in the past. Participation in NATO peacekeeping operations is an important component of our cooperation. We are cooperating in the fight against terrorism. I am grateful for the support that NATO has provided for the reforms in our armed forces. Our armed forces are being aligned with NATO standards. With the assistance of NATO, including financial support, we are also carrying out demining projects in Azerbaijan. At the same time, Azerbaijan contributes to the Trust Fund to support the Afghan national army. We have already provided financial assistance in the amount of 1 million euros and will provide assistance worth a further 1 million euros. Today I want to announce that we will allocate a further 1 million euros to the Trust Fund to support the Afghan national army. We regard this step as our contribution to peace and security in Afghanistan.
At the same time, we will continue to train Afghan military in the academies of the State Border Service, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of National Security, as well as the Diplomatic Academy. I believe that these trainings and our help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan will be an additional contribution on behalf of Azerbaijan.
Today we also discussed the situation in the South Caucasus. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan poses the biggest threat to regional security and stability. We must achieve a speedy settlement of the conflict on the basis of international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
Less than a month ago Azerbaijan signed a project that could be considered as a project of the 21st century. We will soon begin the construction of transportation infrastructure that will deliver Azerbaijani gas to consumers. Azerbaijan launched the initiative on timely implementation of the project and assumed the entire responsibility for that. This will be a project of energy diversification, energy security and cooperation. It will be the largest infrastructure project of Europe. This project will require additional coordination efforts of countries and participating companies. Of course, with the aim of implementing this project on time, we need to ensure the protection of Azerbaijan’s most important energy infrastructure.
In other words, the cooperation between NATO and Azerbaijan successfully continues. Mr. Secretary General and I have discussed the prospects of this cooperation, ways of deepening it and new forms of our future relations. In the future, we want to become an even closer and more reliable partner of NATO, and I am sure it will be so.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary General!
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Then questions from journalists were taken.
Nasib Mukhtarov, Azerbaijani TV: My question is for Mr. Secretary General. You have already noted that NATO-Azerbaijan relations are developing successfully. The meeting today is yet another contribution to these ties. How do you see the prospects for our partnership? Thank you.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: As I said, we have already established an effective partnership. But at the same time, I see the potential for a further development of our partnership. Joint operations are part of our cooperation. As Mr. President has said, it is very important for us to develop our ability to work together and carry out operations and for our armed forces to acquire the capacity to work together. Thus, we can jointly participate in peacekeeping operations. This brings me to the second argument: we must continue the reforms in the armed forces. This is an area where NATO has good expertise. We have already established good cooperation with Azerbaijan, which we must constantly develop.
Of course, energy security is a great issue of common interest. It has a strategic dimension and a security aspect. We can further develop our partnership in this area.
In conclusion, let me say that we have specific and practical cooperation projects. For example, we cooperate with the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action in the clearance of unexploded ordnances and have cleared hundreds of hectares of land from them. This is one of the largest projects of this nature in the world and it serves the welfare of the Azerbaijani people. This is another specific example of our practical cooperation, which may develop in the future.
Radio Liberty: I have two questions for Mr. President. What can you say about your upcoming meeting with the President of Armenia on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue? And the second question: last time you said here in Brussels that there were no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Mr. Mammadov and Mr. Mammadli are still in prison. However, can you confirm that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan ? Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, of course, and this is also confirmed by the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In December last year, the Council of Europe held a broad discussion on this issue. The resolutions on political prisoners in Azerbaijan proposed by some members of the Assembly were not adopted. The vast majority of the Assembly did not support those resolutions. This means that what I said here in the European Commission last year has been confirmed by the organization which is considered one of the most influential institutions in Europe and the world. Azerbaijan has been a member of the Council of Europe for more than 10 years. We are a member of the European Court of Human Rights. This confirms a priori that there can’t be political prisoners in our country. If someone has been exposed to injustices, that person may appeal to the European Court. We respect the decisions of the European Court. I also want to say that the definition of a "political prisoner" does not exist. In our opinion, if the European Parliament or the Council of Europe provide a definition of a "political prisoner", it would be a good idea. It would then be very easy to determine whether someone is a political prisoner or not. So I think that the best answer to your question may be the decision adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January 2013.
With regard to the resolution of the Karabakh problem, we want to be optimistic because a long time has passed since the conflict began and our lands have been under occupation for many years. This situation has lasted for more than 20 years. The UN Security Council resolutions calling for an unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from our lands are not fulfilled by Armenia. This is a flagrant violation of international law. Nagorno-Karabakh is an inalienable part of Azerbaijan and is recognized as such by the whole world. You probably know that several districts located outside the administrative borders of Nagorno-Karabakh have also been under occupation for more than 20 years. As a result of the Armenian aggression, a million people have been left homeless.
My latest meeting with the President of Armenia was perhaps slightly more optimistic than the previous one. Due to the fact that Armenia did not want to negotiate, there was a long stagnation in the negotiation process. We still have doubts as to whether the Armenian side is sincere in the negotiations or whether it is simply trying to maintain the status quo. However, the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries have explicitly stated that the status quo is unacceptable. We perceive this as a serious message to Armenia because for the status quo to change, they have to start vacating our territories. We will see, the foreign ministers have already been instructed. After our meeting in Vienna they have also had a meeting of their own. We hope that they will meet again later this month or possibly next month. We will see how sincere Armenia is in the negotiations. We hope that if Armenia approaches the issue realistically, we will soon be able to resolve it.
Vugar Seidov, reporter of the Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency (AzerTAc): My question is for Mr. Secretary General. Unfortunately, there have been growing negative trends in Europe, including NATO member states, in recent years, such as the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, restriction of the freedom of expression, discrimination against migrants. But as soon as a small incident occurs in Azerbaijan, Europe immediately responds to it. Don’t you think that this approach is a sign of double standards?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No, there are no double standard approaches. In all countries of NATO political issues are also the theme of thorough discussions. With regard to partnerships with other countries, we rely on a number of fundamental principles in our dialogue. The open and candid discussion of the issues of compliance with these principles is an integral part of our partnership. In short, you should not view this as double standards. In fact, we treat each other more seriously. Currently our countries are also holding important discussions in this area. We are holding similar discussions with our partners, because we treat them with respect. We want to strengthen our partnership and need a free and open dialogue to do that. I expect a frank conversation to be held between the President and the NATO Council a few minutes later, and this does not contradict the further strengthening of our partnership but vice versa.