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Joint news conference following Russian-Azerbaijani talks

September 3, 2010, Baku

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

Today is a very significant day in the history of Russian-Azerbaijani relations. Today, we signed important political and economic documents, which I am certain will shape the course of our relations over many years and decades ahead. These documents are a treaty on our state border, an agreement on delimitation and effective use of the trans-border Samur River’s water resources, and a supplement to the contract in gas sector cooperation. These are all vivid symbols of our relations’ dynamic and effective development.

We characterise our relations as those of good friends, neighbours, and strategic partners. Today’s visit by the Russian President, the documents signed, the exchange of views and the talks that we held all bear clear witness to the dynamic, effective and positive development our relations have undergone. We value these relations very highly, and I am sure that in the future we will continue to develop them just as effectively in all different areas as we are today.

We have very close political cooperation and frequent meetings and contacts. We greatly appreciate that the Russian President, the president of a great country, is visiting Azerbaijan for the third time in the last three years. I also often visit Russia, visit Moscow and other cities. This illustrates the mutual interest that we have for each other, and the broad agenda underpinning our relations.

Our relations are not limited to cooperation in just one or another specific sector but are multifaceted, covering political ties, economic cooperation, and joint projects. Our energy sector cooperation occupies a substantial place in our relations. We work together on oil and gas operations, electricity supplies, and transport. We work together on regional and global projects such as the North-South transport corridor, which is already demonstrating its potential today. Russia and Azerbaijan are both important links in this corridor.

We are cooperating in the Caspian Sea and are working jointly to strengthen security in the Caucasus. We are also actively building up our military technical and humanitarian cooperation. Specific results and projects attest to the real development in each of these different areas.

I noted during the official reception for the Russian President yesterday the importance that we place on developing humanitarian cooperation. This is an area in which we have achieved very good results. Our cooperation today has already gone beyond the bilateral level and is becoming an international humanitarian project.

The Azerbaijan-Russia Forum on Humanitarian Cooperation that we held this year in Baku has proven a positive experience and is already producing some good results. We decided today that starting next year this forum will become international in status and take place under the aegis of Russia and Azerbaijan. Our humanitarian cooperation is thus reaching beyond the bilateral format and will help to bring closer together countries and peoples interested in cooperation in this area. We in Azerbaijan have a great interest in this. It is our great desire that all of the different peoples living in our country live together as now, in peace, friendship and brotherhood. We are very pleased to see that humanitarian cooperation between our countries is being enriched with real and concrete projects. 

In other words, our relations are very diverse today and cover practically all different sectors. Most important is that now that we have signed the treaty on the state border there are no unresolved issues between us. The signing of this treaty at an official ceremony here in Baku today is yet another sign of the sincerity of our relations and our sincere intent. This document marks an important milestone in our relations’ progress. Now we can move on to tackling new work ahead. 

We exchanged views today on how to give our economic ties more substance, looking at the new projects we plan to carry out, and how we will coordinate our future activities. We have already outlined concrete steps in the energy sector.

I therefore want to thank once again President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev for making this visit to our country, and for the work together that has resulted in today’s agreements, and I want to express my confidence that our relations will continue to develop in the spirit of friendship, good-neighbourliness, and strategic partnership.

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

Today is indeed a very important day in the history of relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. We settled today the last of the big issues between our two countries. This is Azerbaijan’s first such treaty on delimiting the state border and it has a particular significance for the future of our relations.

The President of Azerbaijan described just now our relations as warm and friendly relations between two strategic partners, and I fully agree with this assessment, of course.

We see the essence of these relations reflected in all different areas of cooperation. I could cite plenty of examples from our economic ties, security cooperation, regional ties, and humanitarian contacts, but I will give just one example that best exemplifies the particular spirit of our relations. As you know, the Russian Federation was struck by disaster this year. Many villages burned in the wildfires that killed people and destroyed homes. Our Azerbaijani colleagues extended a hand of friendship, helping to put out the fires in a number of locations. This is really very important, especially given that such disasters usually strike unexpectedly and are often protracted in nature. Even now when autumn has come fires are raging in two of our regions, and again, people have lost their homes. We will rebuild everything, of course. But it is especially important in a difficult situation – and even big countries with strong economic potential such as Russia can end up in difficult situations – when close friends lend a helping hand. So, once again, thank you very much, Mr President, for all of your help.

Looking at the future I see bright prospects ahead. We have some very promising projects. Today we signed agreements on joint use of the trans-border Samur River’s water resources. This is our common asset and we need to reflect on how to make best use of these resources. 

Of course energy cooperation is one of our important sectors, but it is not the only important area in our relations. We agreed today that this sector should perhaps be the subject of a separate meeting between us, a separate summit, in order to set our respective clocks on all the different issues here, all the more so as we already have rapidly growing ties in some areas – our cooperation in the gas sector, for example.

Cooperation in the oil sector and the electricity sector are also areas to which we give particular attention.

Regional issues are always on the agenda, and we discussed them in detail today too. We discussed security issues, of course. But I hope that we will get some questions on these matters during the news conference, because I think this is an interesting subject, so I will not go into details just now.

We spoke of the need to preserve the positive experience we have built up over recent years in the common space that we share – the Caspian. I hope that we will have many opportunities ahead to deepen this cooperation.

Humanitarian cooperation is very important. A symbolic act just took place with the handover of icons confiscated during attempts to smuggle them into Azerbaijan. It is very good to see that this kind of cooperation between our law enforcement agencies is developing. I want to thank once again our Azerbaijani colleagues for handing back these icons to Russia. This is a gesture of friendship and we appreciate it of course.

We must continue the contact between our education specialists and cultural figures. I therefore give my full support to the President of Azerbaijan’s idea to give the forum that takes place here international status. I think this forum offers a good platform for discussing humanitarian issues and development of political ties, and we could certainly give it an international dimension, all the more so as we have neighbours interested in taking part. I think this is an interesting initiative, and we will certainly take place in the forum if our Azerbaijani friends invite us.

This is therefore a significant visit indeed, in terms of the important document we signed laying the foundations for cooperation between our countries for decades to come, and also in terms of our informal, personal contacts, which are also essential for developing good relations. We meet often, speak to each other regularly, and we have good and friendly relations. I hope this will continue.

Question: A supplementary agreement was just signed under which Gazprom will increase its purchases of Azerbaijani gas next year. At the same time, Azerbaijani gas is being counted on as the principle source of gas to be transported via the Nabucco pipeline – a direct competitor to the South Stream pipeline. Is there not a contradiction here? On the one hand, we see Russia and Azerbaijan developing their relations in the gas sector, but on the other hand, Azerbaijan has not renounced its participation in the competing Nabucco project. Will there be enough gas to go round? This question is addressed to both presidents.

Dmitry Medvedev: I think we need to be very attentive when it comes to our economic interests. We need to realise that each side has its own interests, and these interests are always pragmatic in nature. This is not like in the humanitarian sector, where we focus on ideals, but is an area in which our aim is to earn money. This is normal. We need to measure our desires against our possibilities in this area. That is the first point. 

Second, the President of Azerbaijan and I both noted today that our countries are big players in this sector and we have many common interests because we both produce and supply energy resources. We therefore need to reach agreements in this sector, and we need to cooperate. The agreement increasing gas purchases signed today was precisely an example of this kind of cooperation.

Third, there are various projects today. Russia’s position is that we cannot and will not obstruct any projects. This would not be the right course of action at all. We simply need to identify the most promising cooperation areas and demonstrate the attraction of particular joint projects. As for future projects, let the most profitable projects, the projects of greatest interest to our partners take the day. No one is imposing anything on anyone, but at the same time, projects must demonstrate their economic rationality. I would say that this is the line we should base ourselves on in building up our future energy relations.

Ilham Aliyev: For my part, I want to note that Azerbaijan has been delivering its gas to international markets since 2007, and our production volumes have increased with every passing year. We have substantial reserves. Our proven reserves alone come to more than 2 trillion cubic metres, and we think the real potential is actually around 5 trillion cubic metres, so there will be plenty of gas to go round for many decades to come.

Our cooperation in the gas sector is open and sincere. We see this sector as an opportunity for strengthening relations with our friends and partners. Our cooperation with Russia in this sector began only relatively recently, as you know. It was only last year that we signed our first agreements, but in just this short space of time we have made progress, as can be seen by the supplement to the contract signed today, which will see a four-fold increase in supplies of Azerbaijani gas to Russia. This is a mutually advantageous project and it has a bright future ahead of it.

One of main advantages of this project is that there are no transit countries between Russia and Azerbaijan. We are neighbours and share a common gas pipeline system that is being expanded, and Azerbaijan is investing in expanding the possibilities for transporting our gas to Russia.

As for the other projects you mentioned, and the competition issue, we never saw our activities in the gas sector as a possibility for unjustified competition. We are motivated not by political considerations, but by purely economic and pragmatic concerns. The conditions that exist today between Russian and Azerbaijani gas sector companies satisfy us, and I hope they satisfy Russia too. If all of the interested parties look at this sector in terms of economic justification and avoid artificially politicising these projects I am sure we will be able to take into consideration all of the different parties’ interests.

Once again, I want to say that we see our bilateral energy sector cooperation with Russia as long-term and strategic. It covers not just the gas sector but also oil and electricity. In the future, if mutual agreement is reached, we hope to increase our supplies of all different energy resources to Russia.

Question: I have a question for the President of Russia. The Azerbaijani public is naturally interested in your recent visit to Armenia and the Protocol on Amending the Agreement on the Russian Military Base in Gyumri. What is your comment on this matter?

Dmitry Medvedev: Of course, I will comment on the results of my visit, and I will not conceal that we discussed this matter with the President of Azerbaijan Mr Aliyev. It is certainly very important for Russia to maintain stability here in the Caucasus. Russia is a Caucasian and Caspian nation. This is the main concept for building relations with our closest neighbour and friend, Azerbaijan. Thus, we are interested in maintaining peace and order in the region.

The decision made during my visit to Armenia should be viewed in that light – that of extending the agreement to maintain a Russian military base in Armenia. There aren’t any hidden or other considerations. The base is intended to ensure peace and order, to preserve stability, and to lessen all the complications we have today.

That is precisely what we will have in mind as we implement our capabilities and powers within the framework of this agreement. It does not contain anything fundamentally new, and it means only one thing: that the duration of our stay at the base will increase for a certain number of years. I am sure that this way, we will make all possible enhancements to generally improving the situation here, in the Caucasus and South Caucasus. Those are exactly the instructions I will give to my subordinates, heads of the corresponding ministries and agencies, involved in the operation of the base.

We discussed this in detail with the President of Azerbaijan, and in the future, we will ensure close coordination and exchange views on all matters related to maintaining security here in our region.

Question: I have a question for Mr Aliyev. You said that the issues of the Caspian Sea are constantly on your radar. Could you please tell us about the current progress for the decision that was made at the Tehran Summit of the Caspian Sea Littoral States with regard to holding the next summit in Baku? Are there any hurdles to convoking this summit?

Ilham Aliyev: Mr Medvedev and I discussed this subject today. There are no barriers to holding the summit in Baku. Our positions on settling the issue concerning the demarcation of the Caspian Sea are concurrent. As you know, a corresponding treaty on delimiting the national sectors between our countries was signed. We believe this is a very good format which can become a strong foundation for all-encompassing settlement of the issue of Caspian Sea status.

Today, we also discussed the approximate dates for holding the summit, and after we have corresponding consultations with our partners, our neighbours around the Caspian Sea, we will determine the exact dates. As far as I understand, our goal is not to put the summit off until 2011, but rather, hold it in the upcoming months, in 2010 in Baku.

Question: I have a question for both presidents. As everyone knows, the unsettled Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the continued occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia create an enormous barrier to peace and security in the region. How do you see future prospects for the settlement?

Ilham Aliyev: In our view, this problem must be resolved as soon as possible because the negotiation process has been going on for many years. The Minsk Group was set in 1992 to deal with this issue. Since the armistice in 1994, we have been in a state of ceasefire. But unfortunately, over the course of all these years, we still have not been able to fully settle the conflict.

Azerbaijan’s territory is under occupation. Azerbaijanis have been subject to a policy of ethnic cleansing; the result of this was that hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were driven out of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent counties.

There have been resolutions by international organisations; the UN Security Council has passed four resolutions demanding withdrawal of occupation forces from Azerbaijan’s territory. There have been resolutions by the OSCE, the Lisbon Summit, and other international organisations. The conflict must be settled on the basis of these decisions and resolutions and on the basis of the norms and principles of international law, as was reflected in the Joint Declaration by the Presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia signed in Moscow.

In our view, the problem of coordinating the principle of territorial integrity with people’s right to self-determination is not irresolvable. But people’s right to self-determination should not imply destroying nations’ territorial integrity and can be successfully implemented within the framework of nations’ territorial integrity. Thus, we think it is imperative to find a solution on the basis of the norms and principles of international law and resolutions by international organisations. Furthermore, it is imperative to put an end to the unlawful occupation of Azerbaijani lands and allow hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced persons to return to their native lands and live in peace. I hope that the Armenian side will demonstrate a constructive approach and we will be able to settle the conflict based on the principles I mentioned.

I would also like to use your question as an opportunity to express my gratitude to the President of Russia for his active participation in this process. Six meetings between the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia were held on Mr Medvedev’s initiative. This fact, in and of itself, is unprecedented; never in history have the leaders of co-chairing nations demonstrated such active efforts, and most importantly, such efficacy. And with Mr Medvedev’s participation, some very important steps have been taken toward the rapprochement of the sides’ positions. I would like to thank the President of Russia and express my hope that he will continue making efforts in this direction in the future. We discussed this issue today and I am confident and convinced that the President of Russia’s personal participation plays a very positive role, and that the talks being held with his participation are highly effective.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. I would like to say that indeed, recently, the frequency of meetings between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia with participation by the President of Russia has been historically high. Not so long ago when I was speaking on this matter, I said that I am not ashamed of what has been done recently. These are deep, thoughtful discussions, held with the understanding that there are some fairly significant difficulties in this kind of process. But in any case, these efforts are bringing certain results and the talks are continuing. In my view, the intensity of these contacts should not decrease. Russia is ready to meet its responsibilities within the framework of the Minsk Group and its moral obligations toward neighbouring nations that are continuing to communicate on the subject. I am also personally prepared to continue these kinds of contacts, and I am ready to discuss the most difficult issues that still remain on the agenda. I hope that in the near future, we will continue similar consultations with participation by our nations’ foreign ministers and our own participation.

I am grateful to the President of Azerbaijan Mr Aliyev for his kind words. Russia will strictly abide by its obligations and take every step to encourage reaching the necessary result. And this result is vital indeed as it is capable of bringing about conclusive peace and security to the region, which is, without a doubt, in the interests of the Russian Federation as well.

September 3, 2010, Baku