Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a real pleasure to be here in Baku on behalf of Secretary Blinken. I had hoped to visit the region sooner – this trip was originally scheduled for March 2020 – but COVID disrupted those plans until now. My colleagues and I have held productive discussions so far, and we’re grateful for the warm welcome to Azerbaijan. We look forward to continuing our meetings through tomorrow.
For the past 30 years, the U.S. partnership with Azerbaijan has focused on three equally important areas: energy and economic ties; human rights and fundamental freedoms; and security cooperation/regional peace efforts. I’m glad to have the opportunity to hold face-to-face meetings this week with the Azerbaijani government to discuss these issues.
The completion of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline last December, allowing for Azerbaijani gas to be delivered to Italy, completed the generational Southern Gas Corridor project, and demonstrated how Azerbaijan and the United States can work together, along with other partners, to build connectivity, increase prosperity, and contribute to European energy security.
More recently, we have been very concerned by recent developments along the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the detention of six Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani forces and the recent tragic death of two journalists in a land-mine incident. Too many lives have been lost in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and we are concerned the situation at the border could escalate. We call on both sides to resolve these incidents urgently and peacefully. The United States considers any movements along the non-demarcated areas of the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan to be provocative and unnecessary. We reject the use of force to demarcate the border and call on both sides to return to their previous positions and to cease military fortification of the non-demarcated border and emplacement of landmines.
The United States urges the sides to return as soon as possible to substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to achieve a long-term political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The United States will continue to work with international humanitarian organizations, as well as our Allies and partners, to meet humanitarian needs in the region. But only through a peaceful settlement of the conflict can the people of the South Caucasus truly thrive and prosper.
During my meetings in Baku, I underlined the importance the United States attaches to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and respect for the rule of law. A vibrant civil society, an independent media, and respect for pluralism are at the very heart of these freedoms and are key to ensuring prosperity and stability for all of Azerbaijan’s people, and to further deepening our bilateral partnership.
The United States is working with international partners and organizations to help people recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. We provided $5 million in COVID-19 assistance to Azerbaijan in 2020, working closely with such partners as the International Red Crescent Society and the World Health Organization in Baku.
The United States remains deeply grateful for Azerbaijan’s contributions to operations in Afghanistan, where we have worked together for over 19 years to prevent terrorist attacks on our homelands. We value our partnership with Azerbaijan, and we look forward to continuing to work with Azerbaijan to advance our mutual security interests.
Çox sağ olun. I look forward to your questions.