Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev
Mr. President, welcome back to Brussels.
Our meeting today reflects NATO’s and your commitment to our partnership. It shows that we are and will remain committed to the South Caucasus region.
Azerbaijan is a country of pivotal importance for Europe’s energy security and to peace and stability in the Caucasus.
Azerbaijan is also a valuable and important partner for NATO.
We appreciate the steadfast support provided by your troops in Afghanistan. We also appreciate the political support to NATO operations, through over-flight and transit lines. And we are grateful for the generous contributions you are making to the training of the Afghan security forces.
Mr. President, I strongly welcome your decision to continue supporting Afghanistan in the new mission we are planning to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. This shows your clear commitment to contributing to Euro-Atlantic security.
Today we discussed how to strengthen NATO-Azerbaijan cooperation even further. We are determined to reinvigorate our political dialogue including on strategic issues, such as energy security and counter terrorism.
Continuing reform is also of importance to Azerbaijan, and NATO will continue to assist you. I believe we can deepen our dialogue and cooperation, across the spectrum of our partnership.
This month we mark the Twentieth anniversary of our Partnership for Peace programme. Our Partnership for Peace is founded on a commitment to democratic values and principles. Azerbaijan has been a staunch member of the programme since its beginning.
Mr. President, we have a strong framework for dialogue and cooperation. And today we agreed that we will continue to build a solid, long-term partnership.
ILHAM ALIYEV (President of Azerbaijan): Thank you very much, Mister Secretary General. Thank you for the invitation. I'm very glad. I'm very glad to be back to NATO and to continue our discussions of the strategic dialogue between NATO Azerbaijan. This is my fifth visit to NATO headquarters so this shows the level of cooperation. And during the years of cooperation, these 20 years of our membership to the Partnership for Peace Program, our relations elevated to a level of strategic cooperation.
Also I remember, Mister Secretary General, your visit to Azerbaijan in 2012 and our discussions. Today, we continue discussions on the broad range of issues of our cooperation.
As Secretary General mentioned, we discussed issues related to our participation in ISAF. We will continue to be committed to the security of Afghanistan in the post-2014 period.
Today, almost 40% of non-lethal cargos to Afghanistan are crossing the territory of Azerbaijan. And the routes of Azerbaijan are the most reliable and safe route. So we will continue our efforts in order to promote peace and security in our region.
At the same time, we also participated in the past in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. And now participation in peacekeeping operations of NATO is an important part of our cooperation.
We cooperate on counter-terrorism. We are grateful to NATO for support in the reforms of our armed forces. And our armed forces are being transformed to NATO standards.
Also, we implement with assistance of NATO, including financial assistance, projects of demining in Azerbaijan. And Azerbaijan at the same time is contributing to Afghan National Army Trust Fund. We already contributed one million Euro and pledged for another one million Euro. And today I'd like to say that we will contribute one million Euro more to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund. And we consider this as our contribution to security, peace in Afghanistan.
At the same time, we will continue to provide training for Afghans in our Border Security Academy, Defence Academy, National Security Academy and Diplomatic Academy. It seems that the training and assistance in reconstruction of Afghanistan will be additional contribution from Azerbaijan.
We also discussed today the situation in the Southern Caucasus, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a major threat to regional stability and security. We have to find the soonest resolution to the conflict based on international law and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Less than a month ago, Azerbaijan signed a project which is considered to be the project of 21st Century: the construction of a transportation infrastructure to bring Azerbaijan, I guess, to Europe will start soon. And Azerbaijan takes responsibility and initiative to implement this project on time. That goal is a project of energy diversification, energy security, energy cooperation. And that will the biggest infrastructure project of Europe. And this project will need additional coordination efforts of the countries and companies who participate in this project. And also we will need, of new protection, of the critical energy infrastructure of Azerbaijan in order to deliver the project on time.
So cooperation between NATO and Azerbaijan successfully continues today. With the Secretary General, we also discussed the future prospects of this cooperation, how can we deepen this cooperation and to find new forms for our relationship in the future. And we want to be in the future also the close and reliable partner to NATO. I'm sure that will be the case. So thank you very much Mister Secretary General.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Azerbaijani Media?
Q: Massi Tariq (?) for Azerbaijan Television. My question is to Secretary... Mister Secretary General. As you already mentioned, Azerbaijan-NATO relations are developing successfully. And today's meeting is another contribution to these relationships. How do you see the future prospects of our partnership? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): As I've said, we already have a well-functioning partnership. But I also see potential for further developing our partnership.
One thing is operations. As the president mentioned, it's of utmost importance that we further develop our ability to work and operate together, that our armed forces can work and operate together so that we can jointly participate in peacekeeping operations.
That leads me to a second point: continued reforms of the armed forces. That's an area where NATO has a lot of expertise. And we have already an excellent cooperation with Azerbaijan. I see that cooperation continue to further develop.
Of course, energy security is an issue of strong common interest. There are strategic aspects of that, there are security aspects of that, that’s also an area where we can further develop our partnership.
And finally let me mention what I would call a group of concrete practical cooperation projects. For example, we cooperate with the Azerbaijan National Mine Action Centre to help remove huge quantities of unexploded ordnance and free up hundreds of hectares of land. And this one of the biggest such projects in the world. And it is a real benefit to the people of Azerbaijan. So that's a concrete example of practical cooperation that could also be further developed.
OANA LUNGESCU: Radio Free Europe.
Q: (Inaudible) Radio Free Europe. Two questions to the president. How optimistic are you about your upcoming meeting with the Armenian counterpart on Nagorno-Karabakh. And also a second question, last time you were here in Brussels, you said that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Mister Mammadov and Mammadli are still in jail. Do you still maintain that this is a fact that you don't have political prisoners?
ILHAM ALIYEV: Yes, of course, and this also is confirmed by the decisions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Last December, there was a broad discussion in the Council of Europe about this issue and the resolution which was launched by some members of the Assembly with respect of the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan failed.
The majority of the Assembly did not support that resolution. And that act means what I've said last time here in European Commission that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan is also confirmed by one of the most important institutions of Europe and of the world.
Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe for more than 10 years. We are members of European Court of Human Rights. And a priori, there cannot be political prisoners in our country. If somebody is treated in not a fair way, there's always a chance to apply to European Court. And we are complying with the decisions of European Court.
And also I'd like to say that there are no definitions of political prisoners. We think that the definition of political prisoners if adopted by European Parliament or by Council of Europe would be a good idea. Then it will be very easy to identify who is political prisoner and who is not. So I think that the best answer to your question is a decision of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, January 2013.
On the issue related to Karabakh settlement, we want to be optimists; because it's a long time since the conflict started and a long time, since our lands are under occupation. It's 20 years. And resolutions of United Nations Security Council demanding unconditional and an immediate withdrawal of all Armenian troops from our territory are not implemented by Armenia. And this is a brutal violation of international law. Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan recognized by the whole world as integral part of Azerbaijan. As you probably know, several regions beyond the administrative borders of Nagorno-Karabakh are also under occupation for 20 years. And a million people became homeless due to Armenian aggression.
My last meeting with Armenian president probably was more optimistic than the previous one. And there was a long period of stagnation in negotiation process; because of unwillingness of Armenia to negotiate.
Still, we have doubts whether the Armenian side is sincere in the process of negotiations or whether they want just to continue to maintain the status quo. Though, the Minsk Group Co-Chairs' countries presidents made it very clear that status quo is unacceptable and we consider it as a serious message to Armenia; because in order to change the status quo they need to stop the occupation of our territories. We will see. We gave instructions to our foreign ministers. They met already since our meeting in Vienna. And hopefully, they will meet maybe later this month, or next month. And we will see to what degree Armenia is sincere in the process. And hopefully if realistic assessment in Armenia prevails, we can find a resolution pretty soon.
OANA LUNGESCU: And final question, Azerbaijan (inaudible).
Q: Yes. My name is Rogard Seedov (?) from Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency. My question is to Mister Secretary General. Over the recent years, negative tendencies like the violent use of force against peaceful demonstrations, limitations on freedom of expression, discrimination of migrants are unfortunately growing in Europe and including NATO member States. When even a small incident happens in Azerbaijan, Europe immediately reacts. Do you think it's double standards approach? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, I don't think there is anything like double standard. We have ongoing critical domestic debates in all NATO countries about political questions. And in our partnerships with other countries we base our dialogue on a certain set of fundamental principles. And it is an integrated part of our partnerships that we discuss in an open and frank atmosphere the compliance with those principles. So you shouldn't consider that a double standard; but actually that we take each other seriously. We have ongoing critical debates in our own countries. And we have similar debates with our partners because we respect our partners. And we would like to strengthen our partnerships. And to that end, we also need a free and open dialogue. And I foresee such a free and open dialogue between the president and the NATO Council in a few minutes. And that's not in contradiction with further strengthening of our partnership, on the contrary.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, indeed.