By Abdul Kerimkhanov
Almost 90 percent of the text of the EU-Azerbaijan new partnership agreement has been finalized, presidential aide, Head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmat Hajiyev said an interview with EURACTIV.
"The negotiation process is still going on between EU and Azerbaijan. There are certain fundamental areas, on which we have a little bit different views, but both sides with constructive engagement are working together to narrow this gap. Almost 90 percent of the text of the agreement has been finalized. However, there are energy and trade issues - we are looking for more engagement from the EU side. They shouldn’t take preferential position, or in other words, offensive trade approach with regard to the agreement," he stated.
He noted that the negotiation process is still going on between EU and Azerbaijan, adding that there are certain fundamental areas, on which the parties have slightly different views, but both sides with constructive engagement are working together to narrow this gap.
"Based on that understanding, we do believe that we can move forward. Because for Azerbaijan, it is also strategically important that we have own internal reform process and own economic priorities and initiatives," he said.
Touching upon Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU, Hajiyev called it one of the important directions of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy.
"Azerbaijan and the EU are cooperating in many different spheres. Azerbaijan is also an important partner of the EU in terms of trade. Biggest investors in Azerbaijan are mainly EU countries. The EU and Azerbaijan are closely cooperating in security, transport and energy fields. Especially, in the energy field the EU and Azerbaijan are strategic partners. This year is particularly important, as we will finalize the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and Azerbaijani gas will physically be on the territory of Europe," Hajiyev added.
As for the Eastern Partnership program, he noted it should be tailor-made.
"As to the Eastern Partnership, my president has once again mentioned that in general, it is a framework that brings together different countries and we are also a part of this process to be engaged. We are participating in the Eastern Partnership program. Currently, there are some talks and discussions about further development of Eastern Partnership. But for us inclusiveness in this process, and also not to rank the partners are extremely important. Eastern Partnership should be designed in a sense that particularly, needs and requirements of the partner countries should be met and it also should be tailor-made," he emphasized.
Note that the Eastern Partnership is an initiative aimed at deepening and strengthening the EU's relations with six countries - Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. In this framework, guiding the EU's relations with its neighbours is the EU’s Global Strategy and the revised European Neighbourhood Policy which call on the need to focus on increasing the stabilization and resilience of the EU's Eastern neighbours.
As Hajiyev mentioned, Azerbaijan sees the Eastern Partnership as a general framework and the country is not asking for any kind of donor support or any kind of financial support within the Eastern Partnership.
"We want to build up further cooperation with the EU by using the wider framework,” Hajiyev stressed.
Commenting on Azerbaijan’s role in improving the connectivity between the East and West, he said that the Silk Road concept resonates with Azerbaijan’s own perception, because the country was historically located on the ancient Silk Road.
"Therefore, along this road, along the Caspian Sea, we are building different connectivity mechanisms with our Central Asian partners. It is not only about transportation, it is also about information and communication technologies. Along the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan with our Central Asian partners, with China and some other partnering countries involved, is building a new fiber-optic line as well. We are working on maritime and air component of the Silk Road. Simply, things are going well," he added.
Noting that there is a big potential for trade turnover between China and EU, Hajiyev believes that Azerbaijan can play its role as a mid-corridor.
"Especially, with Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway system, we see that we can do a lot with our EU partners. Azerbaijan’s railway system is well integrated and connected with Russian railway system. Now we are working with our Iranian partners, so that we can bring goods from wider Indian ocean to the northern part of Europe within a short range of time," Hajiyev said.
The EU and Azerbaijan are maintaining relations under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in 1996 and came into force in 1999. Since then the PCA has provided the legal framework for EU-Azerbaijan bilateral relations in the areas of political dialogue, trade, investment, economic, legislative and cultural cooperation.
Speaking about the relations with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he said that Azerbaijan sees further potential to develop political consultation and dialogue with this organization.
"Last year we celebrated 25th anniversary of the Partnership for Peace Program that Azerbaijan joined in 1994. Since then, cooperation with NATO played an important role in security reform and defense reform in Azerbaijan. Education, training and exercises provided by different NATO programs were important instruments in Azerbaijan’s defense building and defense reform process," he said.
Hajiyev underlined that currently Azerbaijan is considered as a reliable and committed partner by NATO.
"I am proud to say that today Azerbaijani soldiers shoulder-to-shoulder to NATO allies and partner countries are serving in Afghanistan against terrorism and trying to provide and bring peace and security to this country. Azerbaijan also plays an important role as a transit and logistic hub for the transportation of lifesaving goods for NATO allied partner countries. We also see that there is further potential to develop political consultation and dialogue. Within the visit to Brussels, we had 29+1 format, that is NATO+ Azerbaijan format of discussions on general political and regional issues, including Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that I had a good chance to brief NATO colleagues and friends from the partner and allied countries," Hajiyev concluded.
Azerbaijan conducts political dialogue with NATO on a broad range of issues of common concern based on the PfP principles. Within the political dialogue, which is held in different formats and levels, the issues like partnership, regional security, Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, peace support operations, contribution to Afghanistan, emerging security challenges etc. are the matters of bilateral discussions and consultations. The high-level political dialogue based on mutual understanding promotes progress in practical cooperation.
Abdul Kerimkhanov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @AbdulKerim94
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