Azerbaijan and Romania
An interview with H.E. Mr. Nicolae Ureche
Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Azerbaijan
March 10, 2009
Azerbaijan in the World: What is the state of political dialogue between Romania and Azerbaijan?
Ambassador Ureche: Romania has had a strong interest in developing relations with Azerbaijan from the very beginning, having been the second country (after Turkey) to recognize the Republic of Azerbaijan. In the years since that time, our two countries from their president down have had frequent and fruitful contacts, and this dialogue has boosted our bilateral cooperation.
Given recent developments in the region, Romania is committed to consolidating its links with states in the Caucasus. As an EU and NATO member bordering the Black Sea, Romania seeks enhanced dialogue and cooperation with the states in this region. It is playing an active role in EU initiatives including the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Eastern Partnership, and Black Sea Synergy. Romania has been and will continue to be a reliable partner of Azerbaijan and to seek further development of our bilateral contacts and collaboration in multilateral settings.
AIW: What role do economic ties play in Romania’s relationship with Azerbaijan?
Amb. Ureche: After political dialogue, which is at an excellent level, economic cooperation is our most important interest. Bilateral economic ties continue to grow, with a total turnover of 162.9 million US dollars during the first 11 months of 2008, up from only nine million US dollars in 2004. But we believe that our two countries have a great potential for expanding beyond our current level.
Later this year, the fourth session of our bilateral Joint Economic Commission will meet in Baku, and we expect it to lead to the further growth of economic ties. Our embassy is actively promoting trade and investment in Romania, and representatives of several Romanian companies will visit Baku later this year to meet with their Azerbaijani counterparts.
Azerbaijani exports to Romania are much greater than Romanian exports to Azerbaijan, and we would like to eliminate that imbalance. That will be difficult given the export of oil and derivatives from Azerbaijan to Romania, but we would wish to boost our exports to Azerbaijan to the extent we can.
AIW: How do you see the current economic crisis affecting our two countries and their relations?
Amb. Ureche: The economic crisis is affecting the countries in similar ways with the stagnation in real estate markets and banking beginning to spread to other sectors, leading to layoffs in many areas and thus affecting all of us. To combat these effects, we need to adopt a mix of approaches and to expand cooperation with each other. Romania stands ready for mutually advantageous cooperation with Azerbaijan which would extend beyond the oil sector, and we believe we can work closely together in a number of directions within the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan’s economy, such as furniture, textiles, industrial equipments, shipbuilding, etc.
AIW: How do you see the role of energy cooperation in our bilateral relations?
Amb. Ureche: Energy remains important for both Romania and Azerbaijan. During the official visit of President Traian Basescu to Azerbaijan in October 2006, the two countries discussed the creation of a strategic partnership in this field aimed at covering all aspects of this cooperation. That commitment has been reinforced by all subsequent bilateral visits at all levels. Although there has been somewhat slower progress in this direction that we had hoped, we remain optimistic that our cooperation in energy will grow.
AIW: What other areas is Romania interested in developing its cooperation with Azerbaijan?
Amb. Ureche: Romania is also interested in expanding transportation connections between our two countries in order to increase the transit of goods from Caucasus and Central Asia via the Black Sea and the Danube to the Western Europe. In this context, Azerbaijan could help transform the Romanian Port of Constanta into a main gateway. Moreover, we share an interest in supporting the existing TRACECA projects and revitalizing the Silk Road. In addition, there are other areas for possible cooperation including agriculture, the food industry, construction and textiles.
AIW: Why did Romania seek the position of NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan?
Amb. Ureche: Romania sought this position because of its commitment to supporting Azerbaijan’s efforts to strengthen and expand its cooperation with the Atlantic alliance. We are confident that our efforts will contribute to the successful implementation of IPAP II as well as to better coordination of efforts between NATO and Baku to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. We also want to contribute to providing the Azerbaijani people with more information about the tasks and objectives of NATO and its member states. And we look forward to building on the successful effort Turkey made in this capacity over the past 16 years. In addition, we hope to expand NATO discussions on energy issues, something Azerbaijan is naturally very much interested in as well.
AIW: What precisely is a NATO Contact Point Embassy and what does it do?
Amb. Ureche: Most people are not aware that the alliance does not have any embassies abroad, but as NATO has evolved, it became obvious that the alliance needs to be represented in countries where NATO has an interest. As a result, NATO in 1992 created a network of Contact Point Embassies, to support the work at first of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) and then that of that body’s successor, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). Such embassies are not formal NATO diplomatic missions. Instead, they are one of several channels through which the alliance’s policies are communicated to partner countries and, in the other direction, by means of which these countries can communicate with NATO Headquarters.
AIW: Could you describe some of the activities Romania is engaged in as a NATO Contact Point Embassy?
Amb. Ureche: Our major task is to help people understand the nature of NATO today. Disseminating information on that score is not easy, and I would like to take this opportunity to advertise the official website of NATO at www.nato.int and also to mention the existence of its Internet television channel at www.natochannel.tv. That task should make it obvious that we are concerned not just with the political elite but with journalists, students, academic specialists and the public. In addition to this information effort, we also provide logistical support to NATO officials visiting Azerbaijan, although the embassies of other NATO countries here in Baku also help out in that regard.
AIW: Could you mention other fields where cooperation between our two countries is taking place?
Amb. Ureche: We are cooperating in a wide variety of areas, including culture, science and education; ties that help us understand one another better. Here in Baku, we have a Romania-Azerbaijan Cultural Relations Association named after our poet Mihai Eminescu, a consultative council that brings cultural figures from the two countries together and helps every interested Azerbaijani understand Romania better. And there is a similar Azerbaijan-Romania Friendship Association in Bucharest which works to raise awareness among people in Romania of Azerbaijani culture and science, and has as one of achievements the translation of the Quran into Romanian.
Further, we are working with the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy and other Azerbaijani higher schools. Several Azerbaijani students are currently studying in Romanian Universities. More can be done in this regard, however, and I look forward to work with Azerbaijanis in the future.