By Amina Nazarli
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has stated that the country has been a reliable EU partner and has demonstrated a strong political will to develop relationship with EU based on mutual respect, equal partnership and common interests.
The minister made the remark as he addressed a meeting of Foreign Ministers of Visegrad (V4) Group and Eastern Partnership countries, the Foreign Ministry reported.
The minister noted that “this traditional format is an excellent opportunity to review state of play on our cooperation, as well as to deliberate on ways and means for further synergy”.
“We welcome the EU’s commitment in the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy, adopted in 2016,that “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of states, the inviolability of borders and peaceful settlement of disputes are key elements of the European security order and these principles apply to all states, both within and beyond the EU’s borders”.
Recent visit of President of Azerbaijan to Brussels in February opened a new chapter in bilateral ties with official launching of negotiations process on a new bilateral document,” said.
Mammadyarov emphasized that Azerbaijan is entering into negotiation process with strong belief that the new and ambitious agreement will upgrade the ties to a level of strategic partnership and would meet the needs and the priorities of the parties in the changing political and security environment.
The first meeting on a new agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan was held in Brussels on February 7, 2017. The new agreement should replace the 1996 partnership and cooperation agreement and should better take account of the shared objectives and challenges the EU and Azerbaijan face today.
Mammadyarov went on to say that strategic partnership in the field of energy remains the cornerstone of the Baku-Brussels cooperation.
“The Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) is a unique project of energy security and diversification with right balance of interests between producers, transit countries and consumers. Strong political support for timely implementation of SGC has been once again expressed during the 3rd Meeting of SGC Advisory Council, recently hosted by Azerbaijan and attended by high level dignitaries from SGC countries, partner states and European Commission,” he said.
Mammadyarov continued: “We are willing to enhance our dialogue in other areas of common interest, inter alia, connectivity, environment, education, tourism, culture and mobility, as well as people-to-people contact, support for small and medium enterprises.
Due to its strategic role of a natural bridge between Asia and Europe, Azerbaijan has always been an active participant and key enabler of regional and trans-regional connectivity initiatives. Today Azerbaijan has involved in implementation of three major projects to promote East-West and North-South corridors, so called geographical crossroad.
Launch of the strategic Baku – Tbilisi – Kars project (BTK), railroad connection between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey will facilitate regional trade and uninterrupted railway access between East and West. We expect that the project will be completed this year. With improving cost and time performance of shipments between Asia and Europe BTK will be a strong alternative to current routes.”
The minister reminded that in 2016 there was launched the first container train starting from China crossing Central Asia, Caspian Sea further to Azerbaijan and Georgia with destination to Europe. This test train proved that this route can reduce the transit period from 30-35 to 15 days.
Azerbaijan is also embarking on another remarkable project - construction of a new Baku International Sea Trade Port (Alat) – the biggest and multi-purpose port in the Caspian Sea with potential capacity of handling 25 million tons of cargo annually. Standing at the intersection of railroad connections to Europe, Russia and Iran, and in close proximity to Baku airport the Alat Port will allow seamless connection to regional hinterland and air cargo, as well as cost effective rail ferry access to other Caspian Sea ports, the minister said.
“Ministerial Declaration on “Developing the external dimension of the TEN-T” adopted last summer in Rotterdam provides solid platform to enhance our transport dialogue. We welcome the inclusion of the Azerbaijani part of the East-West corridor, both road and rail, into TEN-T core networks, as well as inclusion of the North-South corridor into TEN-T comprehensive networks,” he said.
Mammadyarov further said that future of EaP strongly depends on lasting security, peace and stability in the region suffered from conflicts. “We believe that timely and active role to be played by the EU is important for stability and development in our region,” he added.
He said Azerbaijan is interested in a negotiated settlement of the conflict and roadmap based on principles of international law. Particularly, as it is enshrined in the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy-2016.
“However, the country keeps all rights to restore its violated territorial integrity by all possible means in its disposal if already decades-old negotiations do not yield any results,” Mammadyarov said.
Te minister said that the April events of 2016 and the most recent provocation taken place in the line of contact on February 25, 2017 proved the fragility of the situation of “no war, no peace”.
“Despite above-mentioned concerns and against the backdrop of geopolitical and security changes and challenges in the EU neighborhood, strengthening dialogue with the EU is among our priorities. Over the recent years bilateral and multilateral tracks of the EaP proved to be useful instruments in sharing experience and exchange of best practices with European partners.
At the end of April we are embarking on negotiations with EU on a new bilateral Agreement. It is a must for Azerbaijan that the new Agreement clearly reflects EU`s support for and respect to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.
The respect to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, as well as to other countries of EaP, is not only the issue for us; it is also the matter for the EU, and crucial for development of the region,” Mammadyarov added.