Head of the social and political department of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ali Hasanov was interviewed by Bloomberg, SIA presents the text of the interview.
- Dear Mr Hasanov, how would you comment on recent tension in Azerbaijani-US relations? Who is to blame (if one can say so)?
- The foreign policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan is built on the principles of equal cooperation, mutual confidence, respect for international legal norms and non-interference in internal affairs. Azerbaijan maintains its cooperation and partnership with all countries, including the United State of America, based on these very principles. If we look at history we can confidently say that a key role in the development of Azerbaijani-American relations was played by the fact that our positions have coincided with regard to different global geopolitical, geo-economic and military-strategic issues, including the exploitation of alternative energy resources of the Caspian Sea and the ensuring of energy security of the West in the third millennium. It was Azerbaijan that opened the Caspian region for the west, and ensured the involvement of US and European oil giants in the production and export of hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea. Having joined NATO`s Partnership for Peace program in 1994, Azerbaijan has actively participated in the organization`s peacemaking mission in such hot spots as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. President Heydar Aliyev was one of the first world presidents to immediately react to and unambiguously condemn the terror act that happened in the USA on September 11, 2001, and expressed his country`s position. As a modern Muslim country resolutely moving forward on the path of democracy, Azerbaijan has always maintained close cooperation with Western institutions, joined the Council of Europe, the European Union`s Eastern Partnership initiative, with government comprehensively supporting the development of civil society institutions and independent media and ensuring human rights and freedoms. Logic suggests that all this should develop US-Azerbaijani relations based on the principles of mutual respect and sincere partnership, with the interests of both nations and states taken into account.
But unfortunately some US circles, particularly several non-governmental organizations, media and “experts” have been carrying out an unsound smear campaign against Azerbaijan contradicting the spirit of partner relations. Although it is difficult to understand and explain the logic, objective and goals of this campaign, one thing is clear: it undermines the bilateral relations. Moreover some officials at the US Department of State sometimes make obscure statements that confuse the Azerbaijani society and spoil constructive ties between the two countries.
- Do you agree that the relations have never been strained like this before?
- I think that the fact some former unsuccessful officials of the United States frequently attempt to preach – as “experts” – others, including independent states, which are subjects of international law, or make various unlawful claims, and then receive an adequate response from the opposite party, can strain strong partner relations between the two countries. The ties between Azerbaijan and the USA coincide both in terms of the national interests and from the point of view of global international aspect, and are partner relations in nature. Today the relations between the two countries continue on main issues of mutual concern, including global transnational aspect of cooperation and partnership. There are intensive mutual contacts. I believe that these factors will define the future trend of the ties between our countries. So it is wrong to characterize the inter-governmental relations between the USA and Azerbaijan in such a pessimistic manner.
- What are the Azerbaijani government`s main expectations from the USA? What mainly causes discontent?
- The USA is the largest country in the world, which is capable of seriously influencing global processes, while Azerbaijan, thanks to its successful, internal and foreign policy pursued in the past 23 years, broke national boundaries to become a country remarkable for its position on the regional and international level. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev wants all countries respect Azerbaijan`s national will and its policy, which is in conformity with international legal norms. We expect such an attitude, first and foremost, from countries like the USA, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, permanent members of the UN Security Council, which shapes the global politics, as well as Iran, Turkey and other neighbor and partner states because this is how our country treats other states, including their national interests and independent will. Azerbaijan wants to be perceived not in a way somebody wants to perceive it, but what it is. Therefore some circles must understand that as an independent state Azerbaijan has always been guided by its national interests in its foreign policy, and never accepted and will never accept attempts to exert pressure or make threats. Bilateral relations cannot develop based on somebody`s desire to realize their dominance claims, but must be based on shared interests, principles of equal cooperation and non-interference in each other`s internal affairs. The sooner those who want to see Azerbaijan a satellite state or an outpost quite their ideas, the better friends they can be with Azerbaijan.
- Do you really believe that the US government wants some government changes in Azerbaijan or intends to achieve this with the help of its “fifth column”?
- Unfortunately in the modern world, some international forces – on the pretext of encouraging democratic principles – interfere with the internal affairs of independent states, attempt to control, if one can say so, direct official state policy of and public processes in these countries through standard programs elaborated in some “political laboratories”. Recently applied in Eastern Europe, this scenario then spread to post-Soviet space and the Middle East. And the results were not “pleasant” everywhere. Such interferences paved the way for socio-political instability, civil clashes, economic decline, social cataclysms in many countries. Some facts suggest that certain plans were elaborated to apply a similar scenario in Azerbaijan too. But I`m not going to link this directly to the President of the USA or his Administration because both President Barack Obama and other top-ranked US officials have stated that they attach great importance to developing cooperation with Azerbaijan and that they are ready to work with incumbent President Ilham Aliyev and his government. We believe in the sincerity of these statements…
- US` Peace Corps left Azerbaijan from this year. The premises of the Baku office of RFE/RL are sealed off. US-funded “Media Forum” website was forced to stop its activities. Can all this be considered the results of, as some say, “the anti-American policy”?
- Unfortunately in many cases the media pay extremely great importance to artificially politicized, biased allegations of “some” and based on this tries to define common tendencies. The statement of the Prosecutor General`s Office of Azerbaijan said that the financial activity of the Baku office of RFE/RL was not transparent. So the prosecution has had “suspicions of money laundering and appropriation through radio”. To this end, the prosecution bodies carried out a relevant investigation and questioned employees.
As far as the activity of “Media Forum” website is concerned, this absolutely has nothing to do with the government or any government body. There are hundreds of such news portals in Azerbaijan.
As regards Peace Corps I would like to note that this organization had operated in Azerbaijan since 2003, and we think that it has fulfilled its mission. We believe that we do not seriously need Peace Corps to continue its activities. The government of Azerbaijan also believes that one should not waste time of such a superpower like the United States with such minor issues. It is wrong to confine this superpower`s attention to such local matter as Peace Corps when there are numerous transnational problems, international and regional conflicts and other issues, which it must address on the global scale.
- Will the Baku office of RFE/RL be able to continue its activities?
- In Azerbaijan, offices or employees of foreign media work in accordance with their charters, Azerbaijani laws and accreditation rules. Appropriate authorities control the fulfillment of the requirements of the law in this area, and if there are facts of violation, take necessary legal measures. It is their direct responsibility. In Azerbaijan, RFE/RL did not have its local frequency and was operating as an Internet radio. In accordance with its charter, radio has continued its activity in the Internet, and will obviously continue. However, if you want to be accredited or open your office in Azerbaijan, you must obey to the government`s rules and laws. Certainly the results of the investigation into the legality of RFE/RL`s activity in Azerbaijan will play a role here.
- According to the US Department of State, State Secretary John Kerry phoned President Ilham Aliyev on December 21. Nothing has been told the media about the details of this phone talk. Why did John Kerry call President Ilham Aliyev? Interestingly five days after this phone conversation the Baku office of RFE/RL was closed.
- I think that during their phone talk President Ilham Aliyev and State Secretary John Kerry, first and foremost, discussed the bilateral relations and topical issues of mutual concern. I should note that the heads of Azerbaijan and the USA have always had such contacts, and Mr. Kerry`s call is no exception from this point of view and has nothing to do with the prosecution bodies` searching the office of RFE/RL in Baku.
- Amid worsening relations with the USA your ties with Russia are developing. Does this mean that Azerbaijan has already made its strategic choice in favor of Russia?
- As I have already mentioned Azerbaijan is building its foreign policy in accordance with its national interests and its national will, and not in compliance with interests of some states or power centers. To be a friend of one state in order to become an enemy of another and vice versa is not typical of Azerbaijan. Unlike leaders of aggressor Armenia, President Ilham Aliyev has always carried out independent policy. Azerbaijan`s relations with the USA, Russia, Iran and most of European or other countries are built and maintained based on its national interests. Azerbaijan is interested in maintaining traditional cooperation and partnership with all countries of the world and region, including the USA and Russia. And this policy is by no means targeted against other countries.
- It`s no secret that Armenia occupied the Azerbaijani lands with the military and political support of Russia, and this occupation still continues. Will rapprochement with Russia help Azerbaijan return its lands?
- For more than 20 years Azerbaijan has been telling the world that 20% of its lands is occupied by Armenia, that Armenians have conducted a policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijan in the last 200 years, destroyed our national and cultural monuments, and called on the international community and superpowers that have a say in the world to render assistance in solving the problem in compliance with international legal norms and resolutions of the United Nations. But every time the OSCE, where the USA, France and Russia are represented, shifts constructive settlement onto the parties and delays the occupation. On the basis of UN sanctions or decided by global powers Iraq, Libya and other countries are immediately subjected to air bombardments, separatist regimes face sanctions, like it was in Ukraine. But no practical measures have ever been taken against aggressor Armenia and separatist regime in the Nagorno-Karabakh. On the contrary this regime is frequently patronized. Is not it the US Administration that is allocating 10 million dollars to the separatist regime in the Nagorno-Karabakh on a yearly basis? Are not conditions being created for the activities of “offices” of the separatists in the USA and European countries? Why leaders of this regime are not prevented from staging marathons and collecting funds in the USA or France? Yes, all this is a vivid evidence of double standards, discrimination, injustice in the world. Some support occupants and separatists with weapons, others provide financial assistance and help through remaining silent, and this naturally directly causes paralysis of the international law. In this context I think that settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in compliance with international law is a direct responsibility and duty of the UN and its Security Council, the OSCE Minsk group and its co-chairs. This problem can and must be solved through combined efforts of the USA, Russia and France. We are interested in developing relations with all co-chair countries.
- In conclusion, how do you assess the prospects of American-Azerbaijani relations?
- Only positively. There is great potential for developing the cooperation between our countries. We believe that the attempts of several circles in the USA and Europe to spoil relations between the two countries will yield no results. We believe that biased anti-Azerbaijani statements of former employees of the Department of State, former ambassadors and “experts”, who serve as mouthpieces of these circles and who have already lost the sense of realism, are taken for serious neither by official circles nor the society of America.