From the talk of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev with the Chairman-‎in-Office of OSCE, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Knut Vollebek and the persons ‎accompanying him - representatives of the OSCE and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway - ‎Presidential Palace, 18 September, 1999‎

Heydar Aliyev: Distinguished Mr. Minister, distinguished Mr. Chairman!

I cordially greet You and the delegation headed by You, and say ''You are welcome to Azerbaijan!''

Receiving You, we experience different feelings. First of all, we have been already cooperating with OSCE for many years and our meeting with OSCE representatives, in particular, with the Chairman of this international organization, has always been a remarkable event for us.

It is well-known that peaceful solution to the hardest, big and complicated problem for Azerbaijan, the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is entrusted to OSCE and the Minsk Group established by OSCE. Therefore, we were looking forward to meeting You in the region, as Chairman-in-Office of OSCE, particularly, in Azerbaijan. We thank You for the visit.

At the same time you are minister of foreign affairs of Norway. I know that your delegation also includes business people and other official representatives of Norway. Quite a broad cooperation has been established between Norway and Azerbaijan. On September 20, we are celebrating the 5th anniversary of the big oil contract - the “Contract of the Century” concluded by us. The Norwegian “Statoil” Company is one of the founders of the given contract. I can say with satisfaction that other Norwegian companies also actively participated in the implementation of the agreement. Therefore we receive You as minister of foreign affairs of Norway as well and I think we have much to say to each other in this regard.

Thus, we can hold detailed negotiations today. I give You an opportunity to specify what issues we will start the discussion with.

Knut Vollebek: Mr. President, I thank You for such a cordial welcome shown to me and the delegation accompanying me. I am very pleased that it is the first visit of the OSCE Chairman to this region. I beg Your pardon for I could not pay this visit earlier due to the lack of time. The opportunity has been given now, and I am here.

However, as long as You are meeting me also in the capacity of the minister of foreign affairs of Norway, I would like to say several words about the bilateral relations between our countries. First of all, the King of Norway sends his hearty greetings to You. He remembers well Your official visit to Norway in 1996. On the whole, there are very few countries that Norway develops the contacts with so rapidly within the last years.

Mr. President, You have quite fairly mentioned that “Statoil”, being a national oil company of Norway, has laid the basis of this cooperation. The cooperation was carried on by other Norwegian companies. But fortunately, the cooperation, which started in the oil field, covers other fields too.

Mr. President, You have probably received the letter of the prime-minister of Norway. He sent You the letter in connection with the ceremony of September 20, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the signature of “ the Contract of the Century”.

Today, I have visited a campsite where refugees live. I made certain that the Norwegian Council on Refugees works there very actively and closely cooperates with the officials of your country. And this is the evidence of good relations of non-governmental organizations of Norway and official circles of your country.

Mr. President, I have also met the minister of foreign affairs of Azerbaijan. We had dinner together, visited a puppet show in the afternoon and watched a matinee. We listened to the Azerbaijani and Norwegian music there. The children of refugees performed songs in chorus. It was a magnificent theater performance. During the play, a “Viking” ship was brought to the stage. Both the Norwegian and Azerbaijani flags were raised above the ship.

It seems to me that the established bilateral relations are necessary to develop in future as well. The prime minister of Azerbaijan has accepted our invitation. I think he will pay a visit to Norway within the nearest time. Next year, we are expecting the minister of foreign affairs of your country to arrive in Norway.

As is known, I have come here first of all as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. Of course, as chairman, I am very concerned with the situation in the Caucasus. Although the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan has stopped presently, in the meantime, there are refugees from both sides as a result of the war. At the same time, we are worried about the hard living conditions of refuges and problems caused by the conflict. The situation after the war has complicated the life of ordinary people. Therefore, I think the threat to the peace process exists in this region on the whole.

Mr. President, I recollect with deep respect our meeting in Washington. That meeting was held in a wonderful atmosphere. The presidents of Georgia and Armenia took part at that meeting along with the ministers of foreign affairs. The desire to advance towards the settlement of the conflict was expressed at that meeting, in general. Just after that meeting, the events started developing positively. You met Your Armenian counterpart. Your minister of foreign affairs also met the minister of foreign affairs of Armenia.

Two weeks ago, I met in Oslo three co-chairs of the Minsk Group. We touched upon a number of questions at that meeting. They told me that You had expressed the will that the Minsk Group and the OSCE should intensify their activity, and participate more actively in the settlement of the conflict. We, of course, fully realize the responsibility we are entrusted. However, at the same time, we consider that bilateral negotiations, meetings are of great significance in terms of peaceful settlement to the conflict. The three co-chairs, including me, ar ready to back up the issue proposed by You.

On September 20, the ministers of foreign affairs of Azerbaijan and Armenia will hold a meeting in New-York. We have agreed with the minister of foreign affairs of your country that directly after the meeting we shall have a telephone talk, during which we shall exchange views on the understanding achieved in order to clarify what kind of assistance OSCE can render on its part.

Mr. President, I am satisfied with the meetings held in Armenia. On the whole, the people in Yerevan very positively approach to these bilateral meetings. They agreed that it is impossible to settle this conflict without compromises. In support of the stated, I have brought here three captives with me yesterday. Their unconditional unilateral release witnesses that the Armenian party is ready to release all the captives until the beginning of the summit of OSCE.

Mr. President! It seems to me that I have to give You the floor to proceed with the conversation. But I want to raise one more question related to the opening of the OSCE office in Baku. We have discussed this issue with your minister of foreign affairs. Azerbaijan is one of the active OSCE members. And we regard with respect Azerbaijan’s active participation in the OSCE. We consider that opening of the OSCE office in Baku will contribute to the further development of our links and implementation of the projects scheduled by OSCE here.

Our ambassador works very actively in Azerbaijan on behalf of OSCE. A memorandum has been already signed in this field. But our work is not limited only with this. We consider that the OSCE office in Baku would be very useful for the further expansion of our work. Thank You Mr. President.

Heydar Aliyev: First, I express my gratitude for the greeting sent by the King of Norway to me and I ask you to convey my greetings and best regards to His Excellency.

I remember constantly and with deep satisfaction my official visit to your country in 1996. It was a wonderful visit. I think the meetings and negotiations held at that time, as well as the documents signed created as a result the normative-legal basis of relations between Azerbaijan and Norway and opened good prospects for their further development.

I express my gratitude to You once more for the wonderful attitude, hospitality and cordiality shown to me. I remember we had wonderful meetings, strolls in Oslo, visited the museum of my old friend and the friend of Azerbaijan, Thor Heyerdahl, met him and received even more comprehensive information about his travels. Thor Heyerdahl visited Azerbaijan several times, he is a close friend of ours. We love him very much. I ask You to convey Mr. Thor Heyerdahl my greetings and best wishes. One of his ideas is that the roots of the Norwegians originate from Azerbaijan, they lived here formerly and then migrated to the lands where they live now. Whereas Thor Heyerdahl is a very clever man and scientist having an intimate knowledge, his thoughts should be worth of notice.

I was following the rapid development of oil industry in Norway within a short period of time. Azerbaijan is an ancient oil land. Oil has been extracted here for decades and centuries. But in Norway, the problem of oil production in the sea has been excellently solved within only 25-35 years. I have directly observed it in Stavanger city and then at a platform in the sea. All this made magnificent impressionon me. Therefore, I remember it with satisfaction. I declare once more that our cooperation with Norway in the field of economy and other fields can rapidly develop henceforth. We are for his cooperation.

The links of OSCE and Azerbaijan are undoubtedly multi-lateral. But most of all, we expect from OSCE in the recent years, especially since 1992, the assistance in the issue of peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. We constantly cooperate with the Minsk Group of OSCE.

We managed to achieve certain progress at the summits of OSCE held in December 1994 in Budapest and in December 1996 in Lisbon. I want to emphasize that the Minsk Group noticeably was active in 1997, after the Lisbon Summit. Minsk Group was chaired by Russia, the United States of America and France. In June and September of 1997, the OSCE Minsk Group submitted proposals on the peaceful settlement of the conflict. In June, we accepted the proposals in general. But Armenia did not accept them. Then we accepted the proposal advanced in September, too, but Armenia didn’t.

One may say that, at the end of 1997, we were very close to the peaceful settlement of the conflict based on the principles adopted at the OSCE Lisbon Summit. However, this process did not continue because of the destructive position of Armenia. You know that the change of power took place in Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan resigned and new presidential elections took place. Thus, 1998 may be estimated as a complete vacuum in the activity of OSCE, i.e. the Minsk Group.

Then in November 1998, the OSCE Minsk Group suddenly and unexpectedly submitted a new proposal which completely aggravated the negotiation process, i.e. for the peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, we were suggested to adopt in Azerbaijan the principle of a “common state” in order to create such a state as Nagorno-Karabakh in the territory of Azerbaijan, and supposedly, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan would be preserved in that way.

We could not accept this proposal. Of course, we turned it down. But unfortunately, then the Minsk Group, one might say, stopped its activity. We have such an impression formed: let’s say, in 1997 the Minsk Group submitted the proposal, Azerbaijan accepted it, Armenia didn’t; the second proposal was advanced, Azerbaijan agreed, Armenia didn’t; for the third time, the Minsk Group advanced such a proposal which Azerbaijan could not accept; on the other hand, they advanced it approximately in a year. It turned out that the Minsk Group suspended its activity because Azerbaijan did not agree with that proposal.

Consequently, the Minsk Group deals with his issue unilaterally, showing preconceived attitude towards Azerbaijan. They think it normal when Armenia does not accept the proposal, but when we do not agree with the proposal accepted by Armenia, they think it to be abnormal.

It is already a year we have been blamed for not accepting the formula of the '' common state”, and the Minsk Group does not advance a new proposal. But when Armenia rejects the proposals advanced by the Minsk Group, they do not blame Armenia, they simply submit new proposals. Therefore, I think that the activity of the Minsk Group after 1997 is very weak. But after we were suggested the formula of the'' common state” in November 1998,and we turned it down, the Minsk Group took a biased position in respect of Azerbaijan, and this worries us.

In early September, the special ambassador of the president of the United States of America on the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict arrived in Azerbaijan. Two days later the minister of foreign affairs of Russia arrived in Azerbaijan and held very open negotiations both with American and Russian representatives. It was before Your meeting with them in Oslo. I asked them to convey the OSCE Chairman in Oslo that we cannot accept this proposal of the ''common state”. We are waiting for the Minsk Group to advance new acceptable for both parties.

The Minsk Group tries to justify, to a certain extent, its weak activity or inactivity in 1999 by the process of direct negotiations that has started between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Therefore, they are in expectation of what this negotiation process will yield. And then they will either agree with our understanding or start to discuss it.

When, in April, we were in Washington together with You, the meeting of presidents of the Southern Caucasian states - Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, took place there presided by the Department of State of the United States of America and attended by a number of other countries. I, as well as You, consider this meeting to be very important.

On those days, the tete-a-tete meeting of President of Armenia Kocharian and President of Azerbaijan was held in Washington. That meeting was also of great importance and we shall proceed with it. Then we met twice in Geneva and once in Yalta. I suppose that these meetings contribute to the peaceful solution to the problem. We can better understand each other and better clarify our problems with each other. But it is difficult to come to agreement. Not because we do not want it. I feel that the Armenian party also wishes it. But the Armenian party strives for granting Nagorno-Karabakh the status of independence or close to it a status. Therefore, we cannot move forward during these meetings.

Yes, we both - the president of Armenia and I - have stated that compromises should be made for the solution of this issue. Although my statements after the meeting with the president of Armenia in Geneva about the necessity of compromises were subject to sharp criticism by the Azerbaijani opposition and protests sounding against it, - I say once again that we do have to make compromises. The settlement of the problem is impossible without compromises.

But compromises also have limits. It should be implemented so that the interests of our country, our interests would not be trampled down, as the saying goes. I think that these meetings can be proceeded in future and help the peaceful solution of the conflict.

But at the same time, it does not mean at all that the OSCE Minsk Group should completely remain aside. We - both presidents - hold these meetings to make use of this and all other means. However, unfortunately, these meetings have caused in the Minsk group a-wait-and-see-

Position, as though these meetings will produce some results and you will only substantiate it afterwards. We do not agree with it. I tell You too - the Minsk Group should propose new acceptable for both parties proposals. I say it to You with great anxiety. The problem has been delayed so much that the OSCE Summit has to take place in Istanbul on November 17 or 18. And we are very concerned about what decision will be adopted at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul. I think this should worry You, too, as the chairman of the OSCE, since it is the most protracted conflict among those taken place in the world. 20 percent of the Azerbaijani lands have been occupied as a result of this conflict, territorial integrity of Azerbaijan has been violated, more than a million Azerbaijanis have been driven from their native lands and live in tents. You said that You had seen them. But I regret that You saw them in Baku. If You had seen them in tents, it would have made a much stronger impressionon on You. To live in tents over seven years is very difficult. Only tolerance of the Azerbaijanis can stand it.

You say that there are refugees in Armenia too. The comparison is absolutely incompetent. Since theArmenian refugees is a small part of the Armenians who lived in different places of Azerbaijan and left as a result of the conflict. We have the Azerbaijani refuges who lived in Armenia and were forcibly driven away from there in 1998. They do not live in tents, we have placed them in certain places. But the people from the 20 percent of occupied lands live in tents. Therefore, it would be a great mistake to compare and say that there are refugees both in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In general, I regret much that the international organizations, including OSCE itself, often identify the situation around the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. But it is not the reality at all. First, it is Armenia that started the conflict, since it raised claims to the Nagorno-Karabakh, an itegral part of Azerbaijan, and wanted to annex it. Hence, Armenia is the instigator of the conflict. Second, the Armenian armed forces occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh and drove away all the Azerbaijanis from there, these forces also occupied seven administrative districts around the Nagorno-Karabakh where only Azerbaijanis lived, driving these people from their homes.

More than 700 settlements - cities, villages and towns have been destroyed in the occupied lands. Hospitals, houses, schools, Palaces of cultures, electric power stations, bridges and many other constructions - everything created for years, or perhaps for centuries with the labor of people have been destroyed ands plundered. There are no such facts in Armenia. Moreover, I regret that such an opinion exists in the international organizations, including OSCE.

I understood from the negotiations with President Kocharian that they really aspire for the peaceful solution to the conflict. But they advance very hard conditions. You have mentioned as the demonstration of their good will the fact that You brought three captives to Azerbaijan. I appreciate You, You brought to Azerbaijan our three citizens who were in captivity. But we have to approach objectively to this matter too. Our proposal, in general, the proposal of international organizations is to exchange all to all.

But Armenia does not observe it. We do not speak about those who were taken prisoners in the past, we have special lists of their names - there are more than 800 of them. After some time, high-standing officials of some countries stated they are not alive, all were killed. However, according to the data of international organizations, there are 15 Azerbaijani captives in Armenia today. But we have 4, I tell You openly about that and today we are ready to exchange all to all. Why did they give only three? If they really wanted, as they say, to undertake such a step, they had to give up all 15, following the principles of international organizations, OSCE, and we would returned them 4. This question should be also given an objective estimate here.

I can speak long about that. Because our heart aches, You have to know about it. If a million Azerbaijani citizens live in tents in our country, none of us can live quietly. But we cannot present a part of our lands to Armenia to get rid of that. Therefore I repeat again that the solution to the problem should be fair.

Telling You about this I am at the same time optimistic. The fact that we strive for the peaceful solution of the problem is reason of my optimism. Armenia also states the same. It is more than five years since we have been observing the cease-fire regime. I declare that we will not unleash a new war. And it is despite the fact that some forces inside the country blame us for such a position. But I declare - I think that the establishment of peace five years ago as a remarkable event, and we shall observe the cease-fire regime until the peaceful solution of the problem. The ministers of defence of Armenia and Azerbaijan met three days ago in the boundary zone, held negotiations based on our negotiations with the Armenian president and came to the agreement on some issues for strengthening the cease-fire regime. I am also optimistically inclined, because such an authoritative organization as OSCE and the Minsk Group as well as great powers being co-chairs of the Minsk Group - Russia, the United States of America and France - must not reconcile with such a state of affairs. Therefore, we think that in future, that is, until the end of September, until the OSCE Summit, it is necessary to advance a new proposal and adopt a definite efficient decision at the OSCE Summit. Speaking about the cooperation with Azerbaijan You also mentioned the cooperation of ambassador Studman with us. This cooperation is really very fruitful and we appreciate it. As regards opening the OSCE office here, our minister of foreign affairs has explained it to you because only one issue. It is a trifle, but it is also connected with the Nagorno-Karabakh again, not with any other problem. However, As President of Azerbaijan I declare that I am ready to open the OSCE office in Azerbaijan.

I think that the said will clarify our situation to You.

Knut Vollebek: Thank You, Mr. President. You have given me detailed information. First of all, I liked very much the tone of Your talk, since You spoke optimistically. It confirms once more the information we received and heard in Yerevan. On the whole, I think OSCE has many issues ahead to be solved.

Mr. President, You have very realistically mentioned both the problems and obstacles you face today and those you can face in the future. But the main thing is that we expressed our readiness to eliminate these problems. Mr. President, I regret that you have the impression that we are biased in our position. We strive not to take the position of any party and continue to fulfill our own role.

Earlier, I have already spoken about it and want to repeat once more that I plan to meet both ministers of foreign affairs after their meeting on September 29 in New-York. Later, I plan to hold a meeting with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group in order to discuss with them what kind of assistance we can render to the solution of this problem. I think such an approach to the issue will allow us to come to the Istanbul Summit with the same dynamism.

Mr. President, I think such a course of events would positively influence the economic development in the region, too. I think that the Caucasian forum of cooperation is a good means and will assist the economic cooperation and revival of the region. I listened to Your opinion about the prisoners of war. It seems to me that the government of Armenia will release all the prisoners until the Istanbul Summit. I think this will meet the requests of both parties.

I want to express my gratitude to You for the constructive position regarding the OSCE office. Of course, I understand well the problems. I have to say that the government of Armenia also put forward certain problems connected with the office of OSCE. However, we managed to remove them and open the office in Yerevan. I think that working together with your minister of foreign affairs we shall remove the formal problems and open our office in Baku soon.

Mr. President, in conclusion I want to express my gratitude on behalf of all the delegation. I have to say that I do not leave the region with unreal thoughts. I am quite optimistic and think that as a result of our joint work, we shall help people suffering from the conflict and try to improve their situation together. Mr. President, I want to assure You that OSCE will closely deal with this issue and do its utmost to render assistance. Thank you.

Heydar Aliyev: I want to express my attitude to some issues. First, You said about the Caucasian forum. A week ago, the special representative of the United States of America submitted his proposals in this regard to us. I want You to know that they are unacceptable for us. Being now in the state of military conflict with Armenia we cannot give our consent to holding of forum in the suggested form. After the reception of the American representative, I immediately phoned President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze and disclose my opinion to him. He agreed with me. Therefore I want You to understand correctly our opinion in this issue.

The second question is related with the prisoners of war. You say the Armenians will release all the captives until the Istanbul Summit. But I have told You and repeat once again: there are 4 Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan. Now I shall order the minister of national security to convey these captives to Armenia within five days. There will be no captives in Azerbaijan. And You try to get our captives to return to Azerbaijan as soon as possible.

The third question is related with the opening of the office. I shall order the minister of foreign affairs to remove all the impeding problems and reach a decision on opening the OSCE office until Your departure from Baku.

Knut Vollebek: I am not sure about the release of prisoners of war, but I hope they will be freed. I appreciate You, Mr. President, the release of captives is a fine gesture from Your part. I will inform the Armenian minister of foreign affairs about that and ask him to do the same.

Heydar Aliyev: If You want, appoint your representative and we shall convey the captives, let him take them to Yeravan. We will see, maybe he will be able to bring our capatives.

Knut Vollebek: Mr. President, I would suggest to do it through the prisoner exchange organization.

Heydar Aliyev: You have brought three captives here. If You had come here first, we would have given to You four captives and no captives would have remained here. It would have been better.

Knut Vollebek: Kasprzyk will stay here.

Heydar Aliyev: Will we hand the captives to KasprzykIf You authorize, we shall give them to Kasprzyk.

Knut Vollebek: Thank You. Kasprzyk will stay here.

Mr. President, I do not know how to express my optimism, it has grown several times within the last minutes. Thank You, Mr. President, it is a fine gesture on Your part, and of course, it will be met well in Armenia. First of all, it will be excellently met in OSCE, and above all, it will become the symbol of Your attitude to OSCE, Your cooperation with it. We want our cooperation continue in the same way. This, at the same time, proves Your aspiration for eliminating the definite problem - the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

Mr. President, Your minister of foreign affairs invited me to visit Azerbaijan. I am really ready to come to Azerbaijan. I will not tarry long and if certain progress is achieved in the solution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem, I will come with great pleasure and we, OSCE, will not spare our assistance.

Heydar Aliyev: Please come, I will be very pleased. I also invite You. Do You have any other requests? Thank You.

The Azerbaijan daily, 19 September, 1999