Azerbaijan is important not just because of its oil and gas

A Conversation with H.E. Mr. Radek Matula
Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Azerbaijan

March 30, 2009
Baku, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan and the World: What do you see as the most important spheres of cooperation between your country and Azerbaijan?
Ambassador Matula: The Czech Republic, since it considers Azerbaijan its strategic partner, is ready for the rapid and intensified development of political and economic relations with Baku and also for the development of ties in all other areas, including the scientific-technical sphere, culture, education, tourism, and so on.  We do not want to put one of these sectors above the others.  All have their importance in the system of bilateral relations, and they are mutually reinforcing.
AIW: Where do you see the greatest progress in bilateral relations?  And where would you like to see more progress?
Amb. Matula: Relations between our countries have a long tradition.  There were never controversial or seriously problematic issues between us.  But we feel that there are great possibilities for further progress, and we have been thinking about how to develop our relations more fully.  By our joint efforts, we have been able to do something in this direction already.  I am not afraid to say that the last 18 months have represented an important turning point for relations between the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan.
We were able to achieve the historic first official visits of the foreign ministers of the two countries and also the historic first visit of the Czech prime minister to Azerbaijan.  In 2007, Azerbaijan opened its embassy in Prague, and Czech is preparing to do the same thing in Baku.  We can observe a broadening of contacts between our individual ministries as well as among other government and private bodies.  The interest of Czech and Azerbaijani companies and firms to cooperate is growing.  It is especially pleasing to see the deepening of relations between our countries in the humanitarian area, between universities and students and between cultural figures.  I am confident that relations between the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan have a good future.  It is important that in Azerbaijan no one forget about the Czech Republic. 
AIW: Could you say a few words about the Nabucco project and the Czech Republic’s view on its future?
Amb. Matula: The Czech Republic considers Nabucco as a project which must become a constituent part of the broader efforts of the members of the European Union to diversify the sources and transport roots of energy supplies to Europe.  We consider the region of the Caspian Sea a very important one in the context of the European energy security.  As far as Azerbaijan is concerned, its importance consists not only in its large reserves of oil and natural gas but also in its very important geostrategic location.
Taking all that into account, the Czech Republic decided to organize during its European Union presidency a Southern Corridor Summit, which will take place on May 8th in Prague.  Among the participants will be representatives of the European Union and both producer and transit countries, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Turkey.  The Czech Republic considers the basic goal of the summit to be the creation of political conditions and the provision of political support for economically viable projects of particular firms.  In addition, and for us this is very important, we want by means of cooperation in the energy area to achieve the development of relations with Azerbaijan in all other areas.  We do not want people in Azerbaijan to have the feeling that we look at it only through the prism of oil and gas.
AIW: What is your view on the Eastern Partnership initiative brought forward recently by Poland and Sweden within the EU and what future do you see for it?
Amb. Matula: First of all, I should say that Eastern Europe is one of the priorities of Czech foreign policy and the Czech presidency in the European Union.  Many certainly do not know that the Czech Republic has been behind this initiative from the very beginning.  In the first half of 2008, the Czech Republic presented its initiative, “The European Neighborhood Policy and the Eastern Neighborhood – A Time to Act.”  Poland and Sweden then developed our proposals under the title, “The Eastern Partnership.”
The Czech Republic supports the further strengthening of relations between the European Union and its eastern partners in all areas, bilaterally and multilaterally, and this is the basis of this ambitious initiative.  The bilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership will be developed in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, which anticipates a differentiated approach to each of the  partners.  Association agreements are foreseen, which might include deep and comprehensive free trade area.
The multilateral dimension should provide the framework for cooperation on common, joint challenges, like for example, democracy and stability, economic rapprochement with the European Union, energy security, and contacts between people.  At its session on March 20th, the European Council adopted the concept of the Eastern Partnership, which is an important precondition for this initiative, after the negotiations with eastern partners, to officially enter into force.  This should take place in Prague on May 7 at the summit of the Eastern Partnership at the level of chiefs of state or heads of government of the European 27 and the six partnership states.
AIW: The Czech Republic has always expressed its full support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.  Why then did it not vote in favour of the UN General Assembly Resolution 10693, which was passed in March 2008?
Amb. Matula: The Czech Republic carefully observes the development of the situation around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and calls on the countries involved to seek a peaceful resolution, which will be based on the principle of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.  In voting on the UN resolution, we, following the jointly agreed position of the European Union, did not vote for the resolution, but we also did not speak out against it.  And I believe that in the situation that developed around the resolution the fact that the Czech Republic abstained should be considered a position supportive of Azerbaijan.  And I want to repeat that we have several times stressed also after the voting on the resolution in New York that we support the peaceful resolution of the conflict on the basis of the principles adopted in the framework of the OSCE Minsk group, including sovereignty, territorial integrity, and respect for the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.
AIW: What in your view ought to be the next steps in relations between Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic?
Amb. Matula: As I have mentioned, we have great opportunities in all areas of cooperation.  There is a lot of work to be done.  It is important that there is a mutual interest in doing it.  We find in Azerbaijan attentive partners, and we want to be the same for them.  Our task is to attract Czech entrepreneurs to Azerbaijan and to find partners for them for joint, mutually profitable work.  And conversely.  For this we need to provide them with accurate, undistorted information about Azerbaijan and the size of Azerbaijan markets, services and so on.  We need to improve out treaty and legal arrangements in order to establish for entrepreneurs and not only for them reliable conditions for work.  In the fall of this year, we plan to open a Czech embassy in Baku.  This also is one of the important steps directed at the development of relations between the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan.  Our presence here should make possible the establishment of new contacts in all areas and the deepening of those contacts which already exist.
AIW: Finally, what advice would you as an experienced diplomat offer to young Azerbaijanis beginning their careers in diplomacy?
Amb. Matula: First of all, a diplomat must love his own country and be ready to do for it everything in the best possible way.  One must never forget that he is a representative of his country not only during working hours.  Second, diplomacy requires someone who is ready to work whenever his country needs him, including evenings and weekends.  Devote to one’s work, unselfishness, and decisiveness are all important qualities.  Third and no less important in the case of work abroad, one must strive to understand the country to which he or she is assigned, its history and the mentality of its people.  If an individual is not prepared to do that, it would be better for him to seek another area of work.
On the basis of my personal experience with Azerbaijani diplomats, I can say that they have all these qualities.  And I have no doubt that such diplomats are being trained by the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.  I wish all the teachers and students of ADA success in their efforts on behalf of their beautiful country and happiness and well-being in their personal lives.