Azerbaijan is a great friend and a strategic partner of Hungary in the South Caucasus region, Hungarian President Schmitt Pál said in an interview with Trend on the eve of his visit to Azerbaijan.
"I am delighted and privileged being the first Hungarian president to visit Azerbaijan. Potentials to conduct a much more intense cooperation are there, the political will, too. We are interlinked in such major projects as Southern Corridor, Nabucco and AGRI. We have serious options to take steps forward in the so called 'non-oil field' cooperation as well," President Schmitt Pál said.
He said he will be accompanied with a 50 businessmen strong delegation manifesting special interest towards Azerbaijan. In the margins of the visit the second session of the Joint Inter-Governmental Commission on Economic Cooperation is going to be held and business meetings are also taking place, he said.
"I expect from my visit to boost significantly the cooperation between Hungary and Azerbaijan in all fields: politics, economy, energy, technology, ITC, culture, education, tourism, people to people contacts and so on and so forth," President Schmitt said.
Prospects of bilateral relations
Official relations between Hungary and Azerbaijan look back to a very short past, President Schmitt said.
"We established diplomatic relations merely 20 years ago, on April 27, 1992, just after the recovery of independence by Azerbaijan. It is just a snapshot in terms of global history," he added.
Still and yet, during those 20 years the sides achieved significant results in bilateral cooperation, President Schmitt believes.
He said political ties are harmonious and excellent, with no major questions unresolved. Several important high level visits have taken place so far.
According to the President Schmitt, economic turnover is growing year by year and has meaningful potentials.
Both sides are set to participate in the Southern Corridor, Nabucco and AGRI energy projects. Hungary fully supports Azerbaijan's European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
"We welcome the starting of negotiations on Association Agreement between the European Union and Azerbaijan as well as its close cooperation with NATO. And we intend to keep it like that. Moreover, we would like to drive our interaction in all fields as far as possible. All in all, we have rather bright prospects in our future relations and if I may say so, there is no limit them," he said.
The European Union and the Eastern Partner Countries just recently had a successful Eastern Partnership Summit meeting in Warsaw, President Schmitt said.
"I am sure it raised awareness on the significance of the Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Accelerating the reform process on one hand and the political association and economic integration of the willing countries on the other is a key economic interest of the EU and its citizens," he said.
"There is more trade and economic interaction between the EU and its Eastern European partners than ever before. In order to consolidate this trend, the EU and most of its partners are engaged in negotiations on Association Agreements which will also lead to Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas as soon as the conditions are met. At the same time, they are engaged in progressing towards increased mobility across the continent," President Schmitt stressed.
"Hungary is committed to play an active role in Eastern Partnership. In our bilateral programs we focus on capacity and institution building, on democratic reforms and good governance, strengthening civil society with special focus on minority groups, development programs in enhancing regional cooperation, health- care, food security, fitosanitary systems, and rural development," President Schmitt said.
As regards the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Hungary's position remains unchanged. "In line with our views stressed in the course of recent consultations, it is important to seek progress in the resolution process of this prolonged conflict in a manner that is in full compliance with international law. A sustainable settlement must be achieved through peaceful means, within the existing negotiating format and by taking into consideration the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the states concerned," President Schmitt underlined.
In this respect, the OSCE Minsk Group has the lead. The settlement must be based on the so called Madrid Principles, which is absolutely necessary to maintain and reenergize the negotiation process as well as to find a mutually acceptable solution, he said.
"We pay special attention to the two presidents' summits. The rights of the national minorities must be duly observed. Minority groups and communities must be given the right of self-administration,' he said.
President Schmitt said Hungary is fully aware that finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a complex and difficult task. The settlement process requires much patience, readiness to make compromises and also the political will to do so.
"However, we are convinced that peaceful negotiations can come to fruition. Based on our own historical experience we believe that confidence building measures and mutual concessions are also indispensable," he stressed.
Energy is one important field of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Hungary, but not the only one. "Azerbaijan could play a key role in the Southern Gas Corridor. Gas import via this EU backed channel has benefits for both suppliers and consumers," Schmitt said.
The President said diversification of our gas supply is a key tool to strengthen the energy security of Hungary.
"This is one of the key priorities of our foreign and security policy, consequently we support all projects which are serving this goal. We are committed to integrate our gas infrastructures to set up a common energy market," he said.
President Schmitt believes this could also boost the infrastructure projects which will transport larger gas volumes from the Caspian region.
"We firmly believe that the gas produced by Azerbaijan will be delivered to Hungary and Central Europe. The concept of the Southern Corridor not only means an energy transportation route, but it is a strong tie between the people of the European Union and the Caspian region," President Schmitt said.