Principles agreed upon between Armenia and Azerbaijan until present should not be changed, says Javier Colomina
YEREVAN, JANUARY 31, ARMENPRESS. NATO supports the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and insists that, at this stage, the principles agreed upon between the parties till the present moment should not be changed, Javier Colomina, the special representative of NATO in the South Caucasus, stated in an interview with "Armenpress" in Brussels.
Colomina noted that respect for the fundamental principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries, which is the basis of the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is very important. The representative of NATO in the South Caucasus also referred to the role of Turkey in the process of normalizing Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, prospects of Armenia-NATO cooperation and other topics.
- Mr. Colomina you were recently in Armenia, you had various meetings. What were the main issues discussed? What conclusions have you drawn and what are your expectations for the near future?
- Yes, I was last week in Armenia. I met with the Prime Minister Mr. Pashinyan, with the Secretary of the Security Council Mr. Grigoryan, with the Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanyan, with Defence Minister Papikyan. Moreover, I also had the possibility to meet students and junior diplomats and I gave a lecture there. It was very substantial visit. We are very satisfied with the bilateral relationship that we have today with Armenia. We are also very encouraged by the decisions that Armenia has decided to take in their foreign policy and defense policy, the shift they have decided to implement. I know it is a decision that is difficult to implement and will probably take a long time, but, of course, we encourage our partners to get closer to us, and that is what Armenia is doing.
We also talked quite a lot, extensively I would say, about the situation in the regional context and particularly about the peace talks with Azerbaijan. As you know, our policy is very clear. We support the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We do not take sides between our partners, unless there is a violation of the principles and the main elements of the UN Charter that we are very attached to. Therefore, the message was very clear. We would like the peace talks to reconvene as soon as possible. We know there are different tracks, the bilateral track, the US track, the EU track. For us, the most important thing is the outcome at the end, is there lasting peace? Because that would be very important for the stability of the Caucasus.
- Of course, when talking about a lasting and sustainable peace, one should know that it is also one of the main goals of Armenia itself. But what developments can be expected from the Armenia-Azerbaijan settlement process? Especially having in mind the background of aggressive and destructive statements from Azerbaijan, which contain territorial aspirations/demands towards Armenia?
Well, I have heard many concerns from your authorities about the statements from President Aliyev in particular. For us, as I mentioned , the normalization of relations that lead to a lasting peace is a fundamental element today and we will be pushing for that, support whatever tracks brings the two nations to sign something like that. We are supporting the US; we are supporting the European Union. Actually, I was there at the same time that Tovio Klaar, the Special representative of the European Union.
Therefore, I had the opportunity to speak with him at length and we are supporting the bilateral track. At the end it is for the two nations to decide how they move on, so we will be supportive of everything that at the end of the day brings as an outcome a lasting peace. We believe that the principles that were set at the beginning of the process —of course respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity— are fundamental. I actually tweeted at the end of my visit on that. It is one of the principles that we are very attached to, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of course, we believe that together with that principles, delimitation of borders, the connectivity, the principles that were set at the beginning of the process should be part of that process. Unless, of course, the two sides decide to change those principles and have different principles or other principles or more.
However, the agreed principles should not change at this stage. Therefore, as I said, I heard a lot of concern. I do not think that statements help the process move forward, that we will continue to send the same message to the partners; they need to reconvene the talks as soon as possible. Actually, I would like to add that my trip was supposed to be a regional trip. In addition, we had already worked with both capitals to make it regional, but at the beginning of January, Azerbaijan decided to postpone the visit because of the presidential elections, so I couldn't actually convey the messages that I was going to convey. One of those messages was a very clear message that we expect you guys to reconvene the peace talks as soon as possible.
- And what about Turkey? As you know, Armenia is trying to normalize the relations with Turkey as well. In your opinion, what is Turkey's real position regarding the settlement of relations with Armenia, will it go for a real settlement of relations, or will the negotiations again be of a formal nature?
- Well, for us Turkey is a very important ally, as you know, it is the only ally that has borders in the region and therefore is a key actor in the region. We have a very frank conversation with Turkey on every topic and of course, we talk about the concourses as well. Turkey knows that we are supportive of the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. I think Turkey is willing to make progress in this direction. I do not know if they are actually waiting for some progress in the Azerbaijan-Armenian track first. That could be probably one of the considerations, but I think they are genuinely interested in advancing on that. As you know, I cannot really go into the foreign policy, the domestic politics of our allies, but I think, and we have talked about this, it would be a very positive development whenever that happens.
- You have mentioned the territorial integrity and sovereignty as important principles. However NATO member Turkey openly supported the large-scale war in the South Caucasus, unleashed by Azerbaijan. The reaction of the organization was not so strict and binding. Considering that Turkey clearly supports Azerbaijan, do you think it is possible for Turkey to directly intervene in the event of a new aggression by Azerbaijan against Armenia? And what will NATO's reaction be in that case? Considering that this time "disputed territory" cannot be used as an excuse, because we are talking about an internationally recognized country and its borders.
Well, it is very difficult to preempt conversations and as I said I can't really go into foreign policy decisions of my own allies. What I can tell you is that we are very attached to those two principles: sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have been very clear always that for us those are very important. The situation three years ago was different. As you said, there was a controversy in terms of how you looked at the particular enclave. In addition, even though there was recognition of the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, there was a controversy, as I said. I think we are now facing a different situation and, in my opinion, and without preempting anything, the reaction I would assume would be different.
- What steps is NATO ready to take to support international efforts aimed at establishing peace and stability in the South Caucasus?
- Our policy is very clear and that policy honestly limits very much what we can do. However, the policy is based on ‘we don't take sides between partners in general’, not just between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and we have decided to implement that policy. Unless there are violations of principles of the UN Charter and the principles that are also enshrined in the Washington Treaty, so at this stage what we are doing and what we are planning to do, and I have the full support of the Secretary General in that work, is to support, to have a larger presence. I have visited the region seven times since I took office on September 21, probably more than in the previous 10 Years. Therefore, I think we have leverage, politically more presence of NATO in the context of the Caucuses in general. So, the three countries, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, but particularly in the context of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In addition, we have been always very clear about what we expect from our partners. We expect normalization of relations, based on agreed principles and some of those principles are principles that are enshrined in the Washington Treaty and the UN Charter, such as sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we will continue to support that same line and to continue to push for the normalization of relations.
- Coming back to what you said in the beginning, that you are very satisfied by your relations with Armenia. Are there plans to expand them? If so, in what directions?
- Yes, we are very satisfied. In the last couple of years, Armenia has decided to step up politically and practically the cooperation with NATO in general terms, we are always willing to move at the pace that our partners want to move. So, we've been encouraging whatever was coming from Yerevan. Yerevan has decided, for instance, to increase to more than 50 soldiers, their contribution to KFOR , they have decided to make that visible, which is clearly a sign of political engagement and commitment. We are now working on the new ITPP with quite ambitious goals. We are working on training opportunities. We are working on all kinds of partnership work, different tools that we have. I'm not going to bother you with those, but we are using all of them. While two years ago basically the cooperation after the war was sort of frozen and the moves, the shift has been very substantive. So now what we have ahead is the approval of the ITPP. I have high expectations and hopes that that will be done in the next weeks and from there we'll take it. But after the conversations I had in Yerevan, my impression is that the Armenians are willing to continue that path and to increase the cooperation, and we will be helping Armenia doing that.
- And last but not least, since the Cold War, NATO has been conducting its largest military exercises. We can probably guess for whom exactly this message is intended. However, I would like to ask, what kind of message is this?
- Well, NATO has been very clear since the war started in February 2022. We have been increasing our ability to defend and deter. The message has been very clear. We will be supporting Ukraine as much as we can. And at the same time, we won't allow any violation of our territory. To do that, we have taken many decisions from the summit in Madrid to the summit in Vilnius. Now to this very large exercise: most of those decisions are regarding our ability to deter and the message is clear. We want to deter, particularly Russia, a threat considered as such in our joint threat assessment. They already made a strategic mistake invading Ukraine. And they need to understand that NATO will be ready to defend every inch of our territory.
- What is the role of Turkey in particularly in this message? Because Turkey also tries to be in somehow intermediary or facilitator between Russia and Turkey, as the only NATO Member state that can talk to the two parties.
- Turkey has a very specific regional and geographical situation and that is why their foreign policy, that I am not really allowed to talk about, is probably more complex than the one of other allies, but they are absolutely committed with our efforts on defense and deterrence. They are committed with our assessment on which are the two threats that we have, Russia and terrorism. They are contributing as much as any other ally in the efforts we are implementing and they will be part of that very large exercise as they have been part of all the big exercises that we have done in the past.