Azerbaijan Contributes to Energy Security in Europe, which is Also in Norway’s Interest
An interview with Mr. Espen Bath Eide, Foreign Minister of Norway.
AT: After Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, the Kingdom of Norway was the first Nordic country to lay the foundations of diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan. What was the reason for this?
When the USSR dissolved and Azerbaijan and its neighbors in the South Caucasus became independent states, bilateral relations were soon established between Norway and all three countries. We have historical links with all three. What set Azerbaijan apart was the obvious potential for developing a substantive and mutually beneficial partnership in a sector of great importance to both our countries – energy. Statoil established itself in Azerbaijan already in 1992 and later became a partner in developing important projects like Azeri- Chiraq-Guneshli (ACC) and Shah Deniz.
AT: In which areas do you expect work to develop more intensively after your visit to Baku?
Norway aims to further develop its relationship with Azerbaijan in many areas. The visit to Baku by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon in June 2011 contributed to strengthening our ties. My own visit last January gave an opportunity to further strengthen our relationship at the political level. Energy, fossil as well as renewables, will remain an important dimension of Norwegian-Azerbaijani relations, commercial as well as political. Norwegian companies already have good cooperation with Azerbaijani partners like SOCAR.
During my visit we also discussed cooperation in the framework of multilateral organizations. Azerbaijan’s cooperation with NATO and support to the 1SAF operation in Afghanistan is appreciated and an example of joint interests and shared responsibility. Furthermore, we have a joint commitment to common goals and principles in the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. Norway wants to be a good and constructive partner for Azerbaijan in helping to turn these commitments into practical realities.
AT: The biggest problem of Azerbaijan, Nagorny Karabakh, plays a significant part in its foreign policy. In this situation, how is this problem perceived in the relations between our two countries, or are there more important factors for official Oslo?
Norway supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I fully support the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and hope that a peaceful solution can be reached as soon as possible. The present situation creates tension and greatly inhibits development in the South Caucasus.
AT: Azerbaijan is regarded as a leading state from an economic point of view among Caucasus republics. What Caucasus republic do you prefer in terms of the development of democratic institutions and human rights?
Norway aims at contributing to peace, stability and prosperity in the South Caucasus as a whole. A prerequisite for long-term stability is the development of democratic institutions, rule of law and respect for human rights. We are pleased that the countries in the South Caucasus have acknowledged this by signing on, at the highest level, to common goals in the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
AT: Both in the local press and in the world press, we often read that Azerbaijan is in the spotlight of Western countries only when oil or new gas fields are discovered here. From this point of view, is there any link between Norway’s interest in Azerbaijan and the signing of new contracts on the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea by its state company Statoil?
E.B.E.: Azerbaijan and Norway have strong common interests in the field of energy where we can benefit from cooperation, both regarding policies and at the corporate level. Both countries have established sovereign wealth funds based on oil and gas revenues, and both Azerbaijan and Norway have achieved compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (E1TI). In my view, further involvement of Norwegian companies in developing this sector in Azerbaijan is very welcome. Norwegian authorities do not interfere in the decision making of private companies, however Norwegian companies have world- class expertise and experience in the oil and gas sector and should have much to offer in order to help ensure that Azerbaijan’s resources are developed in an optimal manner.
AT: The Caspian is a basin that has great energy reserves. Since it is landlocked, it is necessary to create a new infrastructure on the Caspian seabed in order to export these reserves to the world market. But to this end, the issue of the legal status of the Caspian Sea should be resolved. One factor that makes the issue difficult is that Caspian littoral states ones pledged to use a consensus to resolve it. But Iran is putting forward such conditions that cannot be implemented. It is already clear that by putting forward such conditions and putting its problems with the West on the agenda, Iran is in fact engaging in political haggling with the West and creating obstacles to the division of the Caspian. But Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are really losing from this. Let’s be frank: At a time when the West is seriously raising Iran’s nuclear problem, why is it not urging Iran to “pay for the losses” of the Caspian littoral states?
Reaching agreement on the legal status and delimitation of the Caspian Sea is first and foremost up to the littoral states, building on recognized principles of international law. In my view, the littoral states would all gain from resolving these issues.
AT: Is there a new strategy in Norway’s foreign policy on the Caspian region in the second decade of the 21st century, and if there is, what is its essence?
Norway’s approach to the South Caucasus is based on long-term shared interests, joint commitments and common goals. Azerbaijan is an important partner for many reasons. Azerbaijan contributes to energy security in Europe, which is also in Norway’s interest. We recognize Azerbaijan’s right to freely choose partners and further develop the country and strengthen its sovereignty, making use of its natural and other resources. Likewise, we have a common interest in building stable democracies, promoting economic development and taking good care of the environment. The countries in the Caspian region and Norway also have common interests e.g. in fighting trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings. The world is becoming more and more interdependent, and international cooperation is more needed than ever before.
AT: Thank you for the interview, Mr. Minister.