BAKU: US official happy with Azeri visit

US official happy with Azeri visit

Azerbaijani TV Channel One, Baku
27 Mar 04

The human rights situation in Azerbaijan is not as good as it could
be, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has told a news
conference in the Azerbaijani capital following his meetings with the
president and opposition leaders. Asked about the failure of the OSCE
Minsk Group to yield any results in settling the Karabakh conflict,
Armitage noted that the conflict “cannot be forced down from the top”
but the sides themselves should reach an agreement as the “OSCE Minsk
Group are facilitators”. Armitage also said that he was happy to see
that “so much has changed for the better” in the country. The
following is the text of report from Armitage’s news conference
broadcast by Azerbaijani TV on 27 March

[Announcer in Azeri over video of a news conference] A news conference
by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, 27 March 2004.

[Armitage shown addressing the news conference in English, with
superimposed Azeri translation] I can tell you how happy I am to come
back to Baku. I first came here in the 1991-92 time frame, and so much
has changed for the better.

Those of you who are here every day probably cannot see the
change. But if you, like I, come back every two, three or four years
you can really see the difference.

I have just come from a long meeting with President Ilham
Aliyev. Before that, I met six opposition leaders at the US
embassy. We had a nice discussion about their hopes and their
aspirations, and I also met our embassy family, community this morning
to thank them for their tremendous efforts on behalf of our country.

I did thank the president and through him the people of Azerbaijan for
the courage and dedication of the Azerbaijani soldiers who are serving
alongside the coalition forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Their
courage is quite noteworthy and an extraordinary tribute to the people
of Azerbaijan.

I am happy to be here and happy to try to answer your questions.

[A journalist, in Azeri] The USA, as a rule, cooperates with
Azerbaijan in the antiterrorist field. Could American mobile troops be
temporarily stationed in Azerbaijan as part of this cooperation?

[Armitage] As I have said, we are very gratified by the activities of
the soldiers of Azerbaijan serving alongside our own in Iraq and
Afghanistan. We are very appreciative for the tremondous assistance in
the global war on terrorism, which the government of Azerbaijan has
demonstrated to us. But I did not discuss the issue of bases because
we have no desire for a permanent base in here.

[Another journalist] Farid Qahramanli, Turan news agrency. Mr Armitage
said that he had a meeting with opposition leaders this morning. Could
you tell us please what questions were discussed at the meeting and
whether these issues were raised at the meeting with Mr Ilham Aliyev
and what the president’s reaction was? Thank you.

[Armitage] At my meeting with the opposition, I said that I was going
to do something very untypical for an American, that is, I was going
to listen and after I had heard their concerns, I would make a few
comments.

And I think that one thing that everyone agrees on is the absolute
need for independent media. I did discuss with President Ilham Aliyev
the question of independent media and I noted his recent refusal to
sign a law on public television would seem to be not or to be less
than independent [as received].

I must say that the president also agrees that there has to be
independent media, including electronic media.

We all agreed, of course, on the need to respect the territorial
integrity of Azerbaijan and I noted my point that although some in
every country, including my own, would say that the duty of the
opposition is to oppose, I think that the duty of the opposition is
also to offer an alternative outlook, alternative programmes and
alternative vision of the future.

[A journalist, in Azeri] Mr Armitage, how do you assess the processes
in Azerbaijan following the 15-16 October presidential elections? A
number of international human rights organizations have assessed this
as the most serious crisis in himan rights over the past 10
years. Thank you.

[Armitage] Our own Department of State has listed Azerbaijan and
described the human rights situation certainly as not as good as it
could be or should be. But it is not a permanent situation. It is not
the one that’s etched in stone. We have no doubt that it will change
and will change for the better. We have many problems ourselves as a
government here which the government of Azerbaijan allows us to put
into play, many of which they hope to better the human rights
situation. I think it is a good thing that the government allows these
programmes to continue and even to be increased.

[A journalist, in Azeri] The OSCE Minsk Group has been operating over
12 years and up to now no concrete proposals have been put forward
that would suit the sides. The proposals that they had put forward
were rejected by both sides. What do you think, Mr Armitage, are the
reasons behind this and what concrete steps is the USA, being a
cochair [of the Minsk Group], going to take to increase efforts in
this direction and achieve positive results? Thank you.

[Armitage] First of all, the resolution of the question of Nagornyy
Karabakh cannot be forced down from the top. It has to be a lasting
endurable solution. I believe it has to be something that the two
sides agree on to the end. The OSCE Minsk Group are facilitators.

To that end, we are hopeful that the two sides can sit down under the
aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group in the not too distant future because
the Minsk Group has some new ideas they want to put before the two
sides for discussion.

If the question of the resolution of Nagornyy Karabakh was easy, it
would have been done a long time before now. But we continue our
efforts, as I say, and we hope that the two sides will sit down in the
near future.

[A journalist, in Azeri] ANS TV, Ali Ahmadov. Mr Armitage spoke about
the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Was this issue discussed at
the meeting with Mr President? If yes, were any agreements reached on
taking steps in this sphere in the near future? Could you please tell
us about the issues discussed at the meeting with Mr President, on the
whole?

[Armitage] I am not in the habit of talking publicly about the inside
discussions that I have with any leader. I found President Aliyev to
be extraordinarily open, extraordinarily forward leaning, at least
with me, particularly on the question of independent media. I had a
discussion with him. We recalled my own history here in Azerbaijan,
how amased I was when I first came here to find out there had been
flouring religious freedom here in Azerbaijan even in Soviet
times. There were Jewish enclaves and Othodox enclaves and freedom of
religion was actually allowed even during the Soviet days. That is the
type of spirit and culture that Azerbaijan seems to embody for me. I
was able to discuss that with President Aliyev. Beyond that, I will
just keep the discussions to myself.

[A journalist, in Russian] France-Press, Sabina Aliyeva. In Yerevan
yesterday [26 March], Mr Armitage noted the need for opening the
border between Armenia and Turkey. But Baku states that this could
hinder a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Did you discuss this
issue with Mr Ilham Aliyev today and if yes, could you reach an
agreement on this? Thank you.

[Armitage] Yes, we did. Generally speaking Washington’s position has
been that the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border would be a good
thing. However, President Aliyev made it clear to me his point of view
that to do so now would actually be harmful to a resolution. So we
discussed that. I think he sees my point of view and I certainly see
his. It was a very good discussion.

[A journalist, in Azeri] Gunay Novruzqizi, Leader TV. Mr Armitage, the
situation in Armenia is now tense. The opposition may attempt to
recreate the Georgian velvet revolution in Armenia. There have been
reports that in order to stabilize the situation, [Armenian President]
Robert Kocharyan might resume the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict. Another
war may start. What is the USA’s view on a war option, given that
Armenia does not accept any options, and Azerbaijan has no other way
of liberating its territory?

[Armitage] I found President Kocharyan quite relaxed. I asked him how
tense things were and how much tension he thought was around the
immediate Nagornyy Karabakh area. He said not much at all. So, from
that I was heartened. But we do know most recently from the situation
of Kosovo that things can change rather rapidly. So, this is why we
need to try to resolve this as soon as possible.

Let me thank you all very much. We are going to go and get on the
airplane and try to make all the way back to Washington. Let me just
say again what I said as I started. I am so happy to have the
opportunity to be back here and so proud of what has happened here. I
wish you all the best of luck.

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