Today we have very, very interesting and very, very intensive discussion. I am really happy that Secretary – Madam Secretary is coming to Azerbaijan for the second time within no less than two years. The last time it was on the 4th of July celebrating the independence of the United States here in Baku.
And one of the major priorities of today’s discussion was, of course, resolution of the Armenia and Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There was a few ideas which were sounded with (inaudible) with Madam Secretary as one of the co-chair of the Minsk Group, where we’re standing and how we can make an appropriate steps to reach the breakthrough on the issue of settlement.
As I already told yesterday to our media, on the 18th of this month we are planning to have a meeting with Armenia – my Armenian counterpart in Paris together with the co-chairs. And again, that’s trying to bring the impetus to reaching more sooner a breakthrough in regard to this very longstanding conflict.
We also discussed the issue of Afghanistan, where our soldiers are shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers from United States of America, from the alliance trying to strengthening and building peace. Energy issue was an issue of another very, very interesting discussion, and regional issues as well.
So in two words summarizing what I said, Azerbaijan is firm and we are recognizing that with all the support which is extended to us by international community and particularly by United States, we’ll move forward on the path of being a more secular Muslim state, and that’s how we see our future on the globe.
And now, Madam Secretary, if you can, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Foreign Minister, and I am very glad to return to Azerbaijan for my second visit as Secretary of State. It’s especially good to be here after the Eurovision crowds have departed. But for me, it’s a great opportunity to once again highlight the relationship that we’ve had between our two countries for the last 20 years. Our nations have been steadily strengthening the bonds between our governments, our businesses, and our people.
In my meetings with the president and the foreign minister today, we focused on three key areas: security, energy, and democratic reform. On security, I reiterated my appreciation for Azerbaijan’s past contributions in Iraq and Kosovo and its vital ongoing work in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan is essential to the transportation of troops and nonlethal supplies that support the international effort in Afghanistan. Today, we discussed the continuing important role of the Northern Distribution Network and the importance of supporting the Afghan people after 2014 when they transition to full responsibility for security.
We also had in-depth discussions about Nagorno-Karabakh, including the most recent incidents and deaths along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. As I said earlier this week in Yerevan, I am deeply concerned about the danger of escalating tension, which could have unpredictable and disastrous consequences. This cycle of violence and retaliation must end, and everyone should work to keep the peace and comply with the obligations under the 1994 ceasefire agreement. I have stressed to President Aliyev that the United States is prepared to do whatever we can to help reach a settlement based upon the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. And I have asked the president, as I have asked the president of Armenia, to work together to exercise restraint and to take the steps necessary for peace, not conflict.
Regarding energy, the United States works closely with Azerbaijan on energy security. It is a common strategic interest for both countries and one of the great global challenges of our time. Today, I briefly visited the 19th annual Caspian Oil & Gas Show, and I conveyed to the president and foreign minister our great appreciation for the central role that Azerbaijan plays in efforts to diversify supplies of oil and gas as well as the routes over which they are transported. The United States supports Azerbaijan’s goal of establishing a southern corridor for natural gas exports to Europe, a crucial link that will solidify Azerbaijan’s ties to the Euro-Atlantic community. And I look forward to even deeper cooperation in this area.
Finally, the president and foreign minister and I spoke about the importance of fostering a vibrant civil society, embracing and furthering democratic reforms, which will add greatly to the long-term success and prosperity of Azerbaijan. The United States remains strongly committed to working with the government and people to advance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we, as we always do, urge the government to respect their citizens’ right to express views peacefully, to release those who have been detained for doing so in print or on the streets or for defending human rights.
I commend the president and the government for the release on parole of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, whom I had a chance to see earlier today. And I hope he and all who are members of civil society in Azerbaijan continue their work, which is really work that strengthens society, strengthens the opportunities for Azerbaijan to become an even stronger and greater country, because we believe that countries that flourish in the 21st century will be those that respect the rule of law, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, other universal rights.
I also had the opportunity to discuss the progress that is being made with a group of civil society leaders, and we stand ready to help Azerbaijan on this important journey.
For 20 years the United States and Azerbaijan have been working to build a constructive, comprehensive relationship that benefits the people of this country and the larger region. There’s been a lot of progress made in 20 years. One only has to open one’s eyes to see the progress that has occurred. But we need to go further. I have great confidence that Azerbaijan can both continue the path of economic prosperity and continue on a path toward political reform.
And Mr. Minister Elmar, I thank you again for another productive visit.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAMMADYAROV: Thank you very much. Now, Madam Secretary kindly agreed to pick up our questions, I mean answers.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
QUESTION: One question for you each, if I may. Madam Secretary, on Syria, there’s been increasing talk from Russia and UN officials of setting up a new contact group, of creating or organizing a new conference of states to push forward a plan, and that this conference could include Russia or even UN. What do you think about such an approach, and what will your talks this evening in Istanbul be about?
Mr. Foreign Minister, we’ve all seen the tremendous wealth in your country and its progress, but recently the State Department issued its Annual Human Rights Report and offered some harsh criticism of the government’s human rights record, notably on freedom of expression. When will your government be able to offer its citizens the full respect for human rights that they deserve?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first with regard to Syria, as you know, I’ve been stressing that it’s time for all of us to turn our attention to an orderly transition of power in Syria that paves the way for a democratic, tolerant, pluralistic future. It’s clear that President Assad cannot and has failed to bring peace, stability, or positive change to the Syrian people, and in fact has worked against all three.
So tonight in Istanbul, I will meet with some of our most concerned and active partners to assess where we are, to determine what steps we can take together. The work is continuing on sanctions. In fact the Friends of the Syrian People sanctions implementation group is meeting in Washington today and coordinating on new sanctions measures and closing loopholes on the existing regime. We will look for additional measures that we can take to pressure Assad and alleviate suffering. And we’ll also discuss this evening the essential elements of a democratic transition strategy.
Then I will see Kofi Annan in Washington on Friday to discuss next steps, including our shared efforts to encourage Russia and China to use their influence to end the bloodshed and work with the international community in promoting a transition. Until I’ve had those meetings and heard the opinions of those most directly involved, I won’t prejudge whether we will hold a conference and who would be invited to the conference. It’s a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime’s assault on its people.
So we will have more to say as we move forward.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAMMADYAROV: Thank you very much, by the way, that you recognize that the wealth is coming to Azerbaijan. (Laughter.) We are on the way. We’re just in the beginning of this.
But you just asked me about the Human Rights Report. Of course, I always responded to this question that the human rights cannot come within a night. It’s a generational issue. It’s a process, and the most important to be inside of the process.
I believe – and I strongly believe – that Azerbaijan is doing a lot for building up more stronger civil society, more stronger respect of human rights, and building up strong with the rule of law. Human Rights Reports issued by State Department – as a person who used to work in the United States for years, I can tell you that there is a lot of criticism, not regarding Azerbaijan, but the other countries as well. And we understand that there is no angels in the world. But it means that we are in the process. We’re doing our best, and we want to be better and better for sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. APA News Agency. My question will be to Secretary Clinton. Just few hours after you had visited Yerevan and expressed your concern about the incident on the contact line and have called the both parties to refrain the use of force, the Armenians subversive groups tried to enter the Azerbaijani armed force line, and as a result, five soldiers were killed. And by the way, it’s not the first time during your previous visit to the region the same – the very similar military incident took place. So how do you perceive this fact?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m very sad about it. As you know, I’m sure, when I arrived in Yerevan, there had been three Armenians killed, and I heard exactly the same concerns about that as I heard today in Azerbaijan. It is painful to think about these young soldiers or anyone being killed, and there’s no military solution to this conflict. We mourn the senseless deaths of Azerbaijani and Armenian alike. And we should honor their deaths by recommitting ourselves to peace and doing everything we can, as quickly as possible, to pursue a path towards peace.
There will be a meeting in about, I guess, two weeks between the two foreign ministers who will meet with the Minsk co-chairs. And we will explore some new approaches that I have had the opportunity to discuss with the foreign ministers and with the presidents, because there has to be a solution.
It’s the year 2012. It is past time that we resolved this issue, and I’m going to do everything I can – and I’ve pledged that to both presidents – to help facilitate a resolution and the end of the deaths of anyone around this tragic situation. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER MAMMADYAROV: Thank you.