Jan 26 2012

Peter Bateman: “Azerbaijan is strategically important to Europe,
not just the UK, as it holds the key to diversifying Europe’s energy

APA’s interview with UK Ambassador to Azerbaijan Peter Bateman

– Mr. Ambassador, what did you feel as you first got an offer to
work in Azerbaijan as the UK ambassador? What was your first thought
and reaction?

– I felt very privileged and proud to be chosen as British Ambassador
to Azerbaijan, particularly at such an exciting time in its history
and when bilateral relations are so close. I still feel that way,
three months after arriving and look forward immensely over the course
of my posting to getting to know this fascinating and increasingly
important country and its people even better.

– 20 years ago the UK and Azerbaijan established diplomatic relations.

20 years on, how do you find relations between the two nations? What
are major achievements and probably missed opportunities?

– Azerbaijan is a friend and close strategic partner of the UK. We
have a warm and wide ranging relationship. There have been a number
of senior visits between Baku and London, including most recently
Charles Hendry, the UK Minister of Energy and Climate Change. We hope
there will be many more in the months and years ahead.

There is an equally close relationship at a commercial and people to
people level. The UK is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan
and BP’s partnership with Azerbaijan has been a huge success story
for both parties. Azerbaijan is home or a regular destination for a
large British business community. The UK welcomes many Azerbaijani
students to our universities as well as tourists to our country.

I cannot think of any missed opportunities, but there is clearly always
potential to do even better. So there is scope further to deepen
and broaden the UK’s relationship with Azerbaijan, both politically
and commercially. I look forward to playing a part in this process
during my time here. This year Azerbaijan has jointed the UK on the
UN Security Council where there will be many opportunities for closer
cooperation. Closer to home Baku will host the Eurovision song contest
in May which will be a wonderful opportunity for Azerbaijanis to
introduce their country to visitors – of which we expect many to be
British. And of course, for our part, we look forward to welcoming
many Azerbaijani visitors and athletes to the London Olympics and
Paralympics this summer.

– Recently the UK ambassadors in South Caucasus issued a joint
statement on Olympic Truce in the Caucasus. How is important security
of South Caucasus for the UK government?

– Azerbaijan is strategically important to Europe, not just the UK,
as it holds the key to diversifying Europe’s energy supply. The amount
of British investment in Azerbaijan also makes security in the South
Caucasus a priority for us. Along with its EU colleagues, the UK is
concerned that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved and is
therefore a source of regional instability. We are not Co-Chairs of
the Minsk process. But we very much support their efforts to broker
a solution acceptable to both sides and based on the principles of
territorial integrity; self-determination; and non-use of force.

– Currently Azerbaijan and Armenia are holding critical talks over
Karabakh future with predominantly Russian mediation. As we understand
a main obstacle now is a legal status and future subordination of
Karabakh. Do you see any model in international experience which
might be an example for Karabakh resolution?

– Clearly, the status quo on Nagorno Karabagh is unacceptable and the
UK is keen to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict as soon as
possible. We therefore support all efforts to bring this conclusion
about, including of course the recent meeting of Presidents of
Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia in Sochi.

I am sure there must be a number of models which might serve to help
resolve the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. I think, however, it is up
to those most closely involved in its resolution to decide on what
would best serve peace and prosperity in the region.

– Currently the UK is a largest investor in Azerbaijan, mainly in oil
sector. Azerbaijan has been trying to boost its non-oil sector as the
country lacks of non-oil investments. How do you find a local business
environment for non-oil investments? Do you see any possibilities
for British companies?

We are naturally delighted that the UK is by far the largest foreign
investor in Azerbaijan (with over 50% of all FDI). So far the majority
of that investment has been in the energy sector. If all goes to plan,
there should be a great deal more.

But we are very much interested in developing our trade and investment
relationship much more broadly. Our priority sectors for such activity
in Azerbaijan beyond oil and gas include: construction services;
financial services; design; education; and retail.

We believe that there are many promising business opportunities in
construction, particularly in areas such as project management and
architectural services. There are already success stories in project
management, architecture and design – for example, at Port Baku
and the Baku White City projects, and the new International Airport
terminal. And of course we are delighted to see so many London taxis
plying the streets of Baku!

Another area of growing interest to UK firms is retail (both luxury
and mid-range brands), with the appearance of familiar UK high street
names such as Mothercare, Debenhams, Accessorize and Austin Reed. We
are keen to see this trend grow.

– The Iranian issue remains a major source of international concerns.

There are some concerns in Azerbaijan that possible military strike on
Iran would affect Azerbaijan and have negative consequences (refugees
etc) . How do see the Azerbaijani concerns?

– We fully understand that Azerbaijan has a delicate path to tread
in its regional relationships. Azerbaijan has many people-to-people
links with Iran, as well as a shared border which mean that the two
countries must work together in many areas. Azerbaijan’s concerns are
understandable and UK is also keen to avoid any further escalation
of tension in the region.

From: Baghdasarian

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