By Continuing Progress in Economic and Political Liberalization: "Azerbaijan's Economic Prospects Are Strong, They Could Be Enhanced Further," Minister Mammadyarov
Question: Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan, would you tell me the main purpose of your visit to Seoul? Answer: My visit was aimed primarily at further promoting friendly ties between our two nations. Our attention was focused on developing existing political interaction, economic relations, including but not limited to the discussion of investment opportunities, as well as establishing and strengthening cooperation in cultural, humanitarian and other fields.
Q: Would you comment on the prospect of relations between Azerbaijan and South Korea? A: Prospects of relations between Azerbaijan and South Korea are very encouraging, as documented by talks conducted and meetings held during my visit to your country. We disclosed and discussed extensive cooperation opportunities, including energizing inter-parliamentary relations. I have delivered an invitation letter of President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, to the President of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, as a clear indication of the importance that we attach to stimulating the bilateral ties. I also signed, upon return to Baku, a letter of invitation to my Korean counterpart Ban Ki-moon. It is my firm belief that the exchanging visits on top and high levels will be invaluable in our mutual efforts to elevate our positively developing relations to a new level.
Q: What major problems are you facing in your country today? A: Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the beginning of the 90's of the last century, we have faced a number of economic challenges, including raging inflation and growing unemployment which both resulted in staggering production under the conditions of disrupted economic ties in the post- Soviet space. These were coupled with political and military threats. Among those, the most prominent has been the issue of protracted aggression by Armenia. As a result of the aggression, twenty per cent of Azerbaijan's territories have been occupied and more than one million Azerbaijani citizens were expelled from their ancestral lands. During the aggression and ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories, more than 20,000 people were killed and more than 50,000 were physically disabled. Four United Nations Security Council resolutions, OSCE, CoE and other international organizations' decisions urge unconditional withdrawal of armed forces from the occupied territories. Azerbaijan's position of adherence to a lasting peaceful solution remains unchanged. We demand that the conflict be solved in compliance with norms and principles of international law, which bring us to upholding territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers. Through 2004- 2005, a number of meetings between the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia have taken place. I call on the world community to support the efforts of my country to restore its territorial sovereignty.
Q: What is the economic condition in Azerbaijan, today? A: Azerbaijan lies to the west of the Caspian Sea and is strategically located on the crossroads between East and West, North and South. The country is the world's oldest oil producer-exporter and used to provide for much of the former Soviet Union's needs in hydrocarbons, oil industry-related tools and equipment. With 9 out of 11 climate zones present on its mere 86,600k of territory, it also possesses fertile agricultural lands and unique conditions for developing tourism. Azerbaijan has enormous economic potential, particularly in the energy sector. As a result, virtually every major oil company in the world has an interest in Azerbaijan since 1994, when Contract of the Century was signed between the GoA and a consortium of leading international energy companies. With over 20 production-sharing agreements with foreign oil companies signed until now, my country has successfully used the energy sector to propel its overall development Azerbaijan's largest trade event, the Caspian oil and gas exhibition is held annually. Realization of investment opportunities has been assisted by the implementation of market-oriented legal and institutional reforms. Azerbaijan has achieved annual GDP growth rates, 22%, over the past 10 months of the current year. Successful privatization has resulted in more than 90% of the agricultural land and most small and medium-size businesses being transferred to private ownership. A number of adopted laws protect foreign investment and add to Azerbaijan's status as the per capita leader among the post-Soviet nations in terms of DFI. Azerbaijan's economic prospects are strong. They could be enhanced further by continued progress in economic and political liberalization, strengthening already-investor friendly climate and construction of pipelines (Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum natural gas) and other infrastructure to international markets. The Government of Azerbaijan will need to continue implementing its serious economic reform program, and wisely invest the revenue generated by the development of its energy resources for this to occur. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project plays a key role in the realization of East-West transport corridor and there is great opportunity for possibly drawing Korean investment to the project. Information and press releases, quarterly and annual statements, in Azerbaijani and English, about State Oil Fund's revenues and expenditures are regularly published in the local press and posted on the Oil Fund's web-site (www.oilfund.az) to reflect developments in varying areas of the Fund's activities.
Q: What is the best way to solve Iraqi problem? A: I am looking forward to the international community's continued help, the Iraqi people to advance towards the proclaimed goal of completing Iraq's democratic transition and building a successful, single and indivisible Iraq. Iraqis of all communities and sects, like people everywhere, want to establish peace and create prosperity so that they and their families can live normal lives and build a better future. They all deserve this future. No community should fear that they will not be accorded an appropriate role in the new Iraq or not be treated fairly in a system based on the rule of law. The actions of Iraqis will determine which of these will be Iraq's future. Until then, Azerbaijan with its peacekeepers, stands ready, along with its coalition partners, to continue the efforts aimed at stabilization of Iraq.
Q: What is the best way to solve the North Korean nuclear problem? A: I believe that the Six-Party Talks are the best way to resolve any standoff, including nuclear, and I am hopeful for the multilateral talks-involving North and South Korea, United States, China, Japan and Russia, to continue so that progress be achieved and the security of the Korean Peninsula guaranteed.
Q: What are your major foreign policies for the 21st Century? A: Azerbaijan's major foreign policy priorities for the 21st Century include, first of all, resolution of the Armenia- Azerbaijan Nagomo Karabakh conflict, envisaging restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and return of the internally displaced persons, a number of integration projects, primarily the European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Azerbaijan, already a rightful member of the OSCE and Council of Europe, has greatly expanded its co-operation with NATO and the European Union. The submission of the Individual Partnership Action Plan by Azerbaijan's leader at the NATO headquarters in Brussels in May last year was a further step taken on this path. The 2004 NATO Summit in Istanbul encouraged Azerbaijan's actions in that respect. In the context of developing partnership with the European Union and continuing the integration, the inclusion of Azerbaijan in the "European Neighborhood Policy" was of great importance. The program envisages closer and deeper relations with the members of the Union, creation of joint economic, trade, energy and transport systems. Just in mid-December, we have formally opened the ENP Action Plan discussions in Baku. Azerbaijan's policy also progresses successfully in the formats of the United Nations, the Islamic Conference Organization, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, the GUAM and other international and regional organizations and groups.
Q: What is the new role of the United Nations in the 21st Century? A: In the age of new threats and challenges the international community faces, we consider that the potential of multilateral diplomacy is far from exhausted and reaffirm our support to reforms that will eventually improve the United Nations' functional capacity and decision-making process, especially as regards crisis and conflict management, including the implementation-enforcement mechanism.
Q: What is your general impression of Korea? A: Korea is a dynamically developing nation, which aims to become a financial and business hub of Northeast Asia in the 21st Century. The region, with a population of 1.5 billion, has the essential resources necessary for economic development including abundant natural resources and largescale consumer markets. Azerbaijan is interested in closer cooperation with the Republic of Korea in various fields. So we are looking forward to opening up the Azerbaijan Embassy in South Korea as soon as it possible.