Interview with Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Q: How do you estimate the EU-Azerbaijan bilateral relations?
A: I think we have solid relations. In some fields they are developing faster than in others, and on some issues we disagree, but overall I think our relationship is good. Azerbaijan’s participation in the Eastern Partnership since 2009 and the launch of negotiations on an Association Agreement in 2010 show that we both would like to see a deeper relationship.
Q: What kind of issues do you plan to discuss during your visit to the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan)?
A: We have a full agenda but one particular issue stands out. We are very concerned about the lack of progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and would like to see how we could play a more active and helpful role, in full support of the OSCE Minsk Group. I have appointed a new EU Special Representative, Philippe Lefort, to take this work forward. A solution to the conflict would unlock huge potential for the entire region and would in particular boost regional co-operation. Conflict resolution and reconciliation are key values on which the EU itself is based, and which we believe can inspire a renewed effort in the South Caucasus region as well. We will of course discuss the further development of our bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the context of the Eastern Partnership.
Q: The European Commission proposed to open negotiations on visa facilitation agreement between the European Union and Azerbaijan. When will the negotiations start?
A: I expect talks on visa facilitation and readmission agreements to be launched early next year, provided of course the preparatory work is done and the EU Member States give the Commission the mandate to start. This is clearly a priority issue for us, as it brings our people and societies closer together.
Q: How do you see the perspectives of the realization of Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project, taking into the consideration the statement of Russian Foreign Ministry that the realization of the project is impossible till the determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea by five Caspian littoral states?
A: The diversification of supply routes is a legitimate concern for both energy suppliers and consumers, and the EU has developed the Southern Corridor project as a key priority in this regard. We are very pleased with the launch of talks on the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline on 12 October, although it is clear that it will take time to complete all preparations. This project is not directed against any third country, and we remain determined to further enhance our strategic energy partnership with Russia.
Q: Does EU plan to activate its role in negotiation process on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
A: The Minsk Group has the mandate to mediate between the parties to the conflict. Our intention is to see whether we could do more to support its work, and to help build confidence between the two sides, and more generally act in support of the Minsk Group’s work. There is much at stake in this conflict, and much to be gained if it was resolved, for the people of the region, and also for the EU. We are very worried therefore about the rise in tensions and the increase in incidents, and would like to see how we could help reverse the trend.