Dear guests, as you are aware, we have the pleasure and honor to have with us yesterday night and today Secretary of State Madam Hillary Clinton. We had very, very interesting, very frank and open discussion on bilateral issues. Of course, one of the utmost important was the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict resolution.
The United States has a co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group, playing its own vital role to bring peace and stability into the region, and trying to resolve, as soon as possible, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Besides that, in the agenda was different other issues of mutual interest, including the energy security. And there was open discussion on the regional affairs, what's going on in the region, in our country, and particularly the vision of Azerbaijan for the future, the development of the south Caucasus and the entire region.
So, my understanding that -- the very important visit of the U.S. Secretary of State -- thank you, Madam Clinton -- and it was a very, very interesting and very, very frank discussion.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, I want to thank the foreign minister, President Aliyev, and the people of Baku and Azerbaijan for a very warm welcome to me and my delegation.
This is my first visit to your city and your country. And I am leaving very impressed by what I have seen. This is a dynamic city that has long stood at the crossroads of Eurasia.
And the bonds between the United States and Azerbaijan are deep, important, and durable. We know that, for centuries, travelers and traders have met and prospered here, learning from one another, forming new connections and networks of cooperation. And I am looking forward to continuing that tradition, and working towards some common interests and aspirations.
We have a lot of business trade between our two countries. We have many vibrant cultural and commercial ties, many exchanges, particularly educational exchanges. I met five young people today who have come on exchanges to study in the United States, and I would like to see that expanded, and I would like to see American students and professionals and academics and others coming here.
Our soldiers have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And we deeply appreciate the commitment and sacrifice of the people and government, as we continue these important missions. Today the president and I discussed the ways that we can deepen that partnership. We share a strong interest in regional sovereignty, security, and prosperity, and we are working together on global challenges, such as combating violent extremism, and providing adequate energy supplies that are made available in an environmentally sustainable way.
As the foreign minister said, we discussed at length the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Minsk Group process working to resolve it. The United States remains committed to a peaceful resolution based upon the Helsinki principles of non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples. President Obama reaffirmed this commitment in a joint statement with the presidents of Russia and France at the recent G8 summit. And I underscored it in our discussion today. We stand ready to help both Azerbaijan and Armenia achieve and implement a lasting peace settlement.
The final steps toward peace are often the most difficult. But we believe peace is possible and necessary. And it is a prerequisite for building a secure and prosperous future in both nations. All the people of Azerbaijan and the wider region deserve to live in peace and security, and to have the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. The United States cannot resolve the conflicts in this region, but we can be a partner and a supporter and an advocate for those resolutions. The future of the Caucasus is in the hands of the people here. And I am confident that the people of Azerbaijan have the opportunity for a very positive future.
We also discussed political reform yesterday at the Community of Democracies meeting in Krakow, Poland. I spoke about the importance of civil society, and I reiterated the importance today. When members of civil society are respected and allowed to work free of intimidation, democracies flourish and societies prosper. I view Azerbaijan as a country of tremendous potential. And we hope that it will be possible to resolve and move beyond some of the difficult cases that have raised concerns about media freedom and the status of civil society.
The United States supports the upcoming parliamentary elections in November, and we stand ready to assist, as a friend and partner, as a people and government continue their journey toward democratic and economic progress.
So, again, let me thank you, Mr. Minister and the president, for your friendship and your hospitality. And I look forward to continuing to work closely together with you.MINISTER MAMMADYAROV:
Ladies and gentlemen, now it is questions from journalists. First question from Public TV of Azerbaijan.QUESTION:
(Inaudible.) SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, first, let me say that I intend to deliver the same message in Armenia that I have delivered here in Azerbaijan. As you know, when Presidents Obama, Medvedev, and Sarkozy made their statements as the presidents of the Minsk Group co-chair countries, they stressed the importance that we attach to finding a peaceful settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
We believe there has been progress. And we believe that both Armenia and Azerbaijan recognize that any lasting settlement must be based on the Helsinki Principles. As you probably also know, both the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have held very intensive talks over the past year, including two weeks ago at St. Petersburg with President Medvedev. But this is a high priority for the United States, and we think it is now time to complete work on the basic principles to enable the drafting of a final peace settlement. And we stand ready to help in any way that we can.
The United States strongly condemns the use of force at the line of contact, and we deeply regret the loss of life, whether it be an Azerbaijani soldier or a civilian or an Armenian soldier or civilian. We think that the 1994 cease fire agreement must be enforced, because while we are working to assist you in resolving this matter, we have to protect the lives of the -- of soldiers and civilians who are living on or near the line of contact.
I will certainly do everything I can to try to assist in bringing the parties together to resolve this. And in the meantime, we will continue, in the United States Government, to provide humanitarian assistance that is focused on alleviating the suffering of vulnerable groups in Azerbaijan, especially the large numbers of internally displaced persons. I met two young women who were displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh. And we will provide food, clothing, health, emergency shelter, medical supplies to vulnerable populations, especially the IDPs.
With regard to 907, as you know, presidents continually have waived the restrictions in 907 and have -- previous administrations have also tried to repeal it. Speaking personally, for myself, I would like to see it repealed, but that's up to the congress. And until the congress agrees, then we will continue to waive its effects on Azerbaijan as we move forward.
And finally, my party will raise the last issue you mentioned, about the body of the soldier.MODERATOR:
The second question from David Gollust, Voice of America. QUESTION:
Madam Secretary, do you come away from your stay in Azerbaijan with any encouragement about some of the human rights questions that you have raised?
In the case of the two bloggers who apparently are imprisoned, essentially for a case of ridicule of government officials, Mr. Foreign Minister, is your government going to take another look at that particular case?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, David, the United States supports democracy because we think it is the best system devised by human beings to provide the greatest amount of opportunity and freedom for individuals. And we see a lot of progress in Azerbaijan in the last 18 years. But we are very clear in encouraging and calling for more, because we think it's in the best interests of this country and its people.
So, as the foreign minister said, we had a very frank discussion about a range of issues. Support for Azerbaijan's democratic future has long been a cornerstone of American policy. It's part of a comprehensive policy. There are many aspects. We have a complex, comprehensive relationship. And whether you're talking about energy security, or you're talking about counter-terrorism, or you're talking about democracy, it is all part of our engagement with Azerbaijan.
And we continue to support the efforts that are undertaken by the government to expand and protect free expression and independent media, and have called that more be done because we think these are pillars of democracy. I have in the past, and did again, raise the cases of the two young men. And it is something that has a great deal of attention focused on it, not only in our country but around the world.
So, we believe that there has been a tremendous amount of progress in Azerbaijan. But as with any country, particularly a young country -- young, independent country like this one -- there is a lot of room for improvement. Since it's the Fourth of July I should say that when we began our journey toward freedom, independence, and democracy 234 years ago, we had a very long road that we are still not yet at the final destination. When our Declaration of Independence was signed, and then our Constitution was promulgated, only white property-owning men could vote. We had to fight a civil war to free the slaves. We had to pass an amendment to permit women to vote. We had to have a civil rights movement to truly expand the rights to African-Americans and other minorities. And we have done so much else.
But it is a not-yet-perfect union. And we keep working. And that's one of the things I love about democracy, and I love about America, is that we are very self-critical, and self-reflective, and keep trying to do better and better, and I think it's important to remember that on our Independence Day.MINISTER MAMMADYAROV:
It's very difficult to add any words to the comprehensive response by Madam Secretary. But I can tell you that, yes, we discussed this issue, because the issue of democracy-building was always in the agenda of Azerbaijan-United States relations, and it is still there.
Of course, if you just pick up one or two cases, it's different, whether -- if you would look at the whole, overall developments. And I agree with the assessment of Madam Secretary, with regard that we made it a long way, but very strong efforts to reforming what we had in the beginning of 1990s and what we have today, with regard to the democracy building in Azerbaijan.
We particularly believe that one of the (inaudible) for democracy is stability plus reforms and development. And it's a process. The most important thing is to be in the process. If you just don't pick up one or two cases, but if you would just assess the overall situation, it's very important that the country itself and the civil society and everyone would feel in conformity with the -- to be within this process.
So far, I believe my country is in sight. We are doing quite well with the different programs, with the different international organizations like Council of Europe, or United Nations, or any others who are in charge with or dealing with democracy-building efforts. So far, we're in sight. And I believe that this is the future of the state. There is no doubts of that. And this is the only way how we can proceed to strengthen government independence and sovereignty. Thank you.MODERATOR:
Third question from Azerbaijan News Agency.QUESTION:
My question is to Madam Secretary. You mentioned that you discussed democracy issue. And you said that there is a tremendous progress in this. But, according to reports of international organizations and United States, the situation is worsening, year by year. And Azerbaijan is in the -- very deep in the least.
If you mean that there is a progress, can you explain how it goes on? And there is an opinion in Azerbaijan that in bilateral relations the priority -- democracy is not the proper place. First are oil, security, or something other. Can you tell us what priority is the place of democracy?
And taking into account that you didn't meet the leaders of the opposition, what is your message to other democrats? Thank you.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, first, let me say that we don't prioritize in the sense that we put one goal above or below another, because we think that they are interconnected. And democratic reform is always one of our top goals for any developing country.
I think that the progress is particularly evidence in energy and economic reform, in some of the business rankings about how Azerbaijan has improved its doing business climate. The security cooperation that we have on an ongoing basis is important to both of our countries. And democracy is something that we always raise. It is part of our ongoing dialogue with your country, and especially your government.
We have worked with the Ministry of Finance, with the Central Bank, with other entities to advance anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing and anti-corruption. We have worked with NGOs and individuals. We have spoken out when we thought that changes needed to be made.
So, I think it's like saying, "Is your relationship with any important country with whom you are engaged about only one thing? Or is it about three or four things in some rank order?" And I can only tell you that we have a comprehensive agenda that includes everything and more that I just spoke about. I did meet with a group of young people today, and I really appreciated that opportunity.
This is my first trip, but I can tell you it won't be my last trip. I look forward to returning, and having more time to be able to discuss in depth some of these issues. But I have spoken out about individuals cases and about the need for democratic reform in the past. I will continue to do so, as I am doing right now.MODERATOR:
And the last question from columnist Arki Zavorski.QUESTION:
Thank you, Madam Secretary. Nagorno-Karabakh has been a whole issue for a long time. Do you detect a build-up in tension in the past months? And, if so, what do you think the U.S. should and can do to prevent it escalating into something worse?
And, related to that, how essential do you think it is for that -- to get the Armenia and Turkey process back on track?
And I also have a question for Minister Mammadyarov. (Inaudible) some years ago famously said that the Politburo has moved to Washington. Do you think it is still in Washington, or have things moved since then?MINISTER MAMMADYAROV:
I am not following the question.QUESTION:
After the fall of the Soviet Union, (inaudible) famously said the Politburo --MINISTER MAMMADYAROV:
Ah, moved to Washington.QUESTION:
-- has moved to Washington. Is it still in Washington? Thank you.MINISTER MAMMADYAROV:
You can answer. I want to hear that answer. I don't understand the question, but I want to hear the answer.MINISTER MAMMADYAROV:
Yes. You see, it's -- of course, the answer will be the same hypothetical as the question, itself.
I believe that, of course, the United States is playing a great role for maintaining, first and utmost importantly, international peace and security in the world, as is enshrined in the United Nations charter, together with the other four members of the UN Security Council.
We believe that United States is also a global power, is interested in bringing and spreading stability and prosperity all around, in all corners of the world. And besides that, if you took a look inside of the -- our bilateral ties, how it's developed through the years of our -- after restoration of independence for Azerbaijan, it's an open secret that United States provide us a great support, particularly in so very important and vital project like building up of the oil pipeline (inaudible). It's -- we know clearly that U.S. Administration -- both, by the way, Republicans and Democrats -- was very strongly behind the project. And, at the end of the story, this is starting to be a success story for the region. I think we are probably one of the few that can say that, with assistance of the construction and after the inauguration of the pipeline, the real money and the real prosperity comes particularly to Azerbaijan, at the same time it is also supporting Georgia.
We wish that the same will be addressed to Armenia. But then we come to address the issue of the conflict resolution. As soon as we will settle, at least we will start the first step, implementation of the -- proposed by the co-chairs, ideas how to settle -- how to move on this. I think that it will be a very serious breakthrough to -- for the three south Caucasus states.
And in this regard, of course what Madam Secretary said, the role of United States is enormously important.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, I would only add that we are very committed to trying to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and reach a durable peace settlement. We understand that there was a lot of activity over the past year, both with respect to Nagorno-Karabakh and on the Turkey-Armenia normalization track.
And, unfortunately, we haven't seen the breakthrough that we want to see, because we do think it's very much in this region's interest to be able to have more integration, more trade, more economic activity that will enable the entire region to prosper. Azerbaijan, economically, is doing quite well, and better than their neighbors in the south Caucuses. And so, the idea that we could create a more integrated regional market, open borders, end conflicts, is very much in the line of vision for the United States, because we think that is in everyone's interests.
So, we will continue to work very hard toward that. But, as I said in my remarks, ultimately the future of any one nation and the future of this region is up to the people themselves. They have to make the hard decisions. The United States stands ready, as we have in the past on other matters, to support the implementation of any agreement that the parties decide upon.MODERATOR:
Thank you very much.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you.MINISTER MAMMADYAROV: