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Press conference

Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian’s remarks and answers to questions of journalists during the annual press conference for the 2016 diplomatic year - Part I


Good afternoon,

I am glad to welcome you at the Foreign Ministry at the annual press conference summarising the 2016 diplomatic year.

The last year was quite full of challenges from foreign policy perspective. We were faced with the aggression of Azerbaijan against Artsakh and the consequences thereof. We exerted extensive efforts aimed at preventing Baku’s new adventurous attempts and took steps together with the Co-Chairs to bring Azerbaijan to senses.
We continued the efforts towards the international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, as well as prevention of genocides and crimes against humanity.

Among the important events I would like to emphasise Armenia’s chairmanship in the CSTO and the adoption of a decision to hold the 2018 summit of the Organisation of La Francophonie in Armenia.

In 2016, we continued our efforts towards further deepening of allied strategic relations with the Russian Federation. The development of Armenian-American friendly partnership occupied an important place on our agenda. We had successful seven rounds of negotiations over the new legal framework agreement with the European Union.

The foreign policy was focus on further development of cooperation with immediate neighbours - Georgia and Iran. We continued expanding Armenia’s relations with the European countries. Steps were undertaken to develop traditional contacts with the CIS participating states.

Armenia exerted practical efforts towards strengthening partnership with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, especially with China. We also worked towards deepening of cooperation with the Arab countries. Armenia continued its efforts aimed at expanding relations with the countries of the American continent as well as strengthening relations with the African countries.

We continued our engagement within international structures and multilateral formats. Armenia played an active role within the Eurasian Economic Union. We participated in the ongoing processes within the CIS structures. Armenia continued to deepen cooperation within the UN, OSCE, CoE and other international organizations. We also continued regular Armenia-NATO partnership.

The development of foreign economic relations of Armenia was one of the key directions of Ministry’s activities in 2016.

The historic visit of the Pope Francis to Armenia was one of the most important events of 2016. I would like to note that more than 120 mutual visits at the level of heads of states, heads of parliaments, prime-ministers, foreign ministers and heads of international institutions took place last year.

As you can see, 2016 was quite an active year. I think that 2017 will be no less active.
The annual report of the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2016 has been published in today’s issue of “Hayastany Hanrapetutyun” Daily. The report is also available on our website and you have an opportunity to look into it in a more detailed manner. I will stop here to leave more time for the Q&A. Please.

Armenia TV: Mr. Minister, there were two meetings held after April in Vienna and St. Petersburg, and certain agreements were reached, which, as we all know, Azerbaijan refuses to implement. And in these last days seems everybody is silent about it. What are the developments? Is there anything new? Thank you.

Edward Nalbandian: Here are the developments: Azerbaijan continues to do what it has done on numerous occasions, it tries to hinder the efforts exerted by Armenia and the Co-Chairs aimed at exclusively peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Baku has questioned the agreements reached in Vienna and St. Petersburg or distorted those agreements to such an extent that the Co-Chairs qualified it as a “perversion”. The Co-Chairs are obliged to repeat over and over again that the ceasefire regime should be strictly adhered and the agreements reached on the establishment of the mechanism for investigation of incidents and the expansion of the capabilities of the team of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office should be immediately implemented. This is the main direction which guides the Co-Chairs and Armenia and which is aimed at creating conducive conditions for the advancement of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process. So, this is what we are dealing with.

Armenpress News Agency: Mr. Minister, on December 29, Azerbaijan undertook diversionary incursion attempt on the state border with Armenia. To your opinion, what are the goals of such provocations? What steps has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs undertaken? And what outcome can we anticipate?

Edward Nalbandian: You know that immediately after the incident the Foreign Ministry issued a relevant statement. I think that you are aware of that statement.

Some raise a question why it happened and who gave the order. Who was behind it? The leadership of Azerbaijan or local commanders? Or was that a spontaneous act conducted by some crazy saboteurs? All these options are bad.

Let’s suppose that the Azerbaijani leadership was the one to give the order. It goes beyond any comment. Even though no one doubts that the Azerbaijani leadership is capable of giving such orders, as it is Baku that rejects to deescalate the situation and consolidate the ceasefire regime.

Let’s suppose that this case was an exception and the Azerbaijani leadership was not the one who gave the order, that it was done by some local commander. What does it talk about? It only demonstrates that there is a bedlam in the Azerbaijani army. The local commanders don’t give a damn about their leadership and could take such actions, initiate such an adventurism with unpredictable consequences which can not only escalate the situation, but also lead to serious negative developments.

Let’s suppose that even this option is not correct and it was done by some crazy people, saboteurs who were simply out of their minds. Indeed, while listening to the Azerbaijani leadership’s Goebbels-style rhetoric, it is not a coincidence that such cases of demonstration of mob madness could happen within the Azerbaijani society. Otherwise, how could it be that the surveys of public opinion conducted in Azerbaijan recently, this January, show that 92 percent of the Azerbaijani society is in favour of the use of force and the settlement of the issue through military means.

I think, it’s time for the international community, and first and foremost for the Co-Chair countries to sober up Azerbaijan, who goes against their calls, against their demands and has lost the sense of reality.

Public TV: Mr. Minister, what will be the impact of the change of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs on their mediatory mission?

Edward Nalbandian: As you know, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs express the approaches, position of their countries, and I think that the change of personalities will hardly have serious impact on the mediatory efforts and the settlement process.

Arminfo: Mr. Minister, what will be the impact of the recent decision of the Constitutional Court of France on the process of international recognition of Genocide? You have also mentioned that Summit of La Francophonie will be held in Armenia. What will it give to Armenia? And the last question, when will the Armenia - European Union negotiations be completed?

Edward Nalbandian: I will be brief on answering the first question: it is important that all political forces of France without any exception are unanimous and have no other opinion on the Armenian Genocide, its recognition and condemnation. And you know that France has recognized it through relevant legislation.

On the second question on holding the summit of La Francophonie in Armenia, I would like to note that it was an important decision that attests to a lot of things. Indeed, it is a unique opportunity for Armenia to host next year the summit of this organisation, which is one of the biggest institutions on the international arena and has eighty four members, associated members and observer countries and governments.

First of all, it is an important platform for dialogue and development of relations, especially with those countries where Armenia has no diplomatic representation. Due to our circumstances, we cannot have embassies everywhere. Specifically, if we speak about the African continent, the summits and ministerial conferences of the Organization have always been used for making active contacts with numerous countries. That was also the case during the last summit in Antananarivo. This is an important platform, which provides an opportunity to present our approaches on different regional and international issues, as well as those issues which have a special importance for us, such as, for example, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. As you know, through our efforts during the last summits in Antananarivo and in Dakar and even before that relevant formulations were included in the final documents which reflected the approaches of Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. And those approaches, in fact, received the support of all Member States of the organization. This is quite an important factor.

As you know, in 2015 the Ministerial Conference of La Francophonie was held in Armenia and among others it adopted the resolution on the prevention of genocides. You do realize the importance and meaning of documents that are adopted within this framework.

This summit will be the biggest, the most large-scale and comprehensive conference on the level of Presidents and Prime Ministers hosted by Armenia since the independence. And it is not just solely the summit but before that the conference of Foreign Ministers will be held, which will be preceded by the session of the Permanent Council. It will last for approximately a week. It is a big responsibility for Armenia. And it requires a huge work. In this regard, by the decision, instruction of the President of the Republic a preparatory working group headed by the Prime Minister has been created, which includes also heads of many ministries. So the launch of the preparatory works have been given.

Three-four days ago in Paris I also had a meeting with the Secretary General of La Francophonie. We had a discussion not only on the organizational works, but also the content of this important international conference.

Regarding the third question, in December 2015 we launched with the European Union negotiations over the new legal document, and up until now eight rounds of negotiations were held. The next round - the ninth one - is scheduled for this February. I think we are approaching the final stage, as the vast majority of relevant provisions and chapters included in the new agreement related to both political and economic sectors have already been agreed. In coming days an EU delegation, including the negotiators from the European side will visit Armenia. I think, that in a near future it will be possible to conclude this negotiation process.

Public Radio: Mr. Minister, what is the probability of holding negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh in the near future? Please specify if there is a date set?. And Armenia’s membership to the EEU restrains its cooperation with other economic unions or countries, doesn’t it?

Edward Nalbandian: First of all, regarding the negotiations, I would say the meeting. Yes, such a meeting has been proposed by the Co-Chairs to be held with the Co-Chairs prior to the Munich Security Conference. The Co-Chairs also suggested to hold a meeting there between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

As you know, of course we never refuse any meeting: I mean at the level of Foreign Ministers and any other, let alone the meetings with the Co-Chairs. It is clear that the Co-Chairs always visit the region, we meet them here, we meet them in different other places. But regarding the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, I cannot confirm that at the moment, as it is still to be seen what kind of tricks Azerbaijan will play in this case. Who knows? We have witnessed it in Hamburg and on numerous occasions before Hamburg.

We usually come to a certain agreement, then, at the last moment, they pretend that allegedly some circumstances came up, they even accuse that it is the Armenian side who rejects the meeting. This is a nonsense, of course. In Hamburg they said that no meeting was held at all, though a meeting was held in the presence of the Co-Chairs and with participation of the Foreign Ministers.

Then they said that the meeting was held during a dinner. Is it possible to sit around the same dinner table without meeting each other, seeing each other? Maybe, in Munich there will be a meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers as well, if Azerbaijan will not refuse it.

Regarding the EEU membership, you know, there were pessimists who were claiming that our membership in the EEU would create some obstacles for the development of economic and other relations within other formats and with other countries. However, we have stated that our membership in the EEU does not mean that we will decrease our involvement or cooperation with other institutions or countries. And the facts prove this.

Immediately after our accession to the EEU and during the period that followed, we have signed, for example an important Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States and it was just after Armenia’s membership to the EEU that the United States made its biggest investment in Armenia.

As I have said, we have launched negotiations with the European Union, and not only we but also Brussels states that these negotiations are quite efficient including in sectoral and economic dimensions.

After we became the EEU member, the President of Armenia paid a state visit to China during which very important arrangements were made, agreements were signed and the relations with China got a new impetus.

So, the pessimism was not justified. Armenia stands for the development of relations and cooperation with every interested side and we will continue our efforts in this regard. Mr. Minister, I wonder whether there are any news regarding the appointment of CSTO Secretary General, especially, in the light of recent statement by the press secretary who said that it is already known that the representative of Armenia will assume this post?

Edward Nalbandian: It has been known long before, and it is a joint decision, that the next Secretary General will be the representative of Armenia. Couple of days ago in the media there was an information that the session of the CSTO Permanent Council took place, during which a decision was made regarding the assumption of the post of the Secretary General, and the draft of that decision was send to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs for their confirmation and approval of that decision. After that, the decision will be put forward at the next CSTO Summit, the dates of which, I hope, will be clarified soon. April is being considered. We need to wait for the dates to be set. I hope, that during that summit this issue will have a definite solution.

Ararat TV: Mr. Minister, going back again to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Especially after the April events, there are some parallels drawn between the former and current options on the table of negotiations. What is your approach to such comparisons? Is there a need in that? Is it a right approach?

Edward Nalbandian: As you could have noticed, I am trying not to comment on such interpretations, especially when the comparisons are done for the sake of, I would say, attempts of “pulling the rope”.

I would only say that it is obvious who has rejected the Kazan document, before Kazan - the Sochi document, before Sochi - the Moscow document, before Moscow - the Astrakhan document, before Astrakhan - the St. Petersburg document and so on. This list can go on. Who shuns from the well-known five most important statements issued at the level of the heads of Co-Chair countries on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? It‘s Azerbaijan, who doesn’t even want to make a reference to those statements.

It is Azerbaijan who eschews the last statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Minsk Group Co-Chair countries made within the framework of the Hamburg Ministerial Council meeting.

I am not saying this for a comparison, I am just presenting the facts that speak for themselves.

However, I think that one thing is clear - the speculations over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue driven by some internal motivations are simply dangerous and unacceptable.

TV2 Channel: Mr. Minister, would you present details of the developments around the OSCE Yerevan Office. There was an information that you have been invited to Vienna with regards to this issue. How would you comment that?

Edward Nalbandian: You have put it quite mildly, Azerbaijan referred to it in more rude terms. They said, the Foreign Minister of Armenia “was called on the carpet.” Probably they are so used to being “called on the carpet,” they suppose that others can also be measured by “their own merits.” In reality, the visit to Vienna was our initiative, and it was my suggestion to have meetings with Sebastian Kurz, Foreign Minister of Austria and the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, and Lamberto Zannier, the OSCE Secretary General. I think, those meetings were quite important and constructive, held in the atmosphere of mutual understanding, and the results were revealed on the same day, as there was the session of the Permanent Council where the chairing country - Austria - presented some details on all these developments.

It was said that the Azerbaijani side, though without naming it, referring to it as “a country”, but everyone knows for whom the bell tolls. As they say, “a guilty mind betrays itself”. Especially, since the behaviour of the Ambassador of Azerbaijan left no doubt that it is addressed to Azerbaijan. He said that Azerbaijan has some concerns that the OSCE Office in Yerevan is engaged in activities that are not within its mandate. The pretext was, that the OSCE Yerevan Office is allegedly implementing so called demining project, which they claim contradicts the mandate of the Office. In reality, it is not a demining project, but a tiny educational programme aimed at raising awareness on demining issues. It is a small project for the OSCE, merely 25 thousand euros annually for the training of 3-4 persons.

The OSCE had to send a mission to the region, which visited Armenia, thoroughly studied the issue, returned to Vienna and presented a report where concluded that the Azerbaijani claims do not correspond to the reality, that the Office is acting within the mandate that has been approved and given to the OSCE Office. Despite that, Azerbaijan continued to uphold its opposition. Then Azerbaijan went even further. It said that the Office should not engage in any activity which undermines Azerbaijan’s security. So, during those 17 years, when the Office has been operating, it has not threatened, and suddenly it started threatening now.

I would like to put the record straight: we are not talking about Armenia’s office, but about the OSCE Office in Armenia. So, by opposing to the OSCE Office Azerbaijan acts against the OSCE. By criticising the activity of this Office, it in fact blames the OSCE for allegedly threatening Azerbaijan's security. At the same time, Azerbaijan demands from the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to make a statement on that. Where is the logic?

Azerbaijan’s claims were a blatant lie. In its remarks on Friday at the Permanent Council the Austrian Chairmanship stated that both the previous and the current OSCE Chairmanships fully support the conclusions of the abovementioned report. The Chair called on all countries to support the activities of the Office. It was also mentioned that under these circumstances when Azerbaijan upholds its opposition, and as you know, the OSCE is a consensus based institution, therefore, if there is an objection even from one country it is impossible to adopt a decision and due to that reason, it was suggested to abstain from the implementation of that demining project. Of course, the suggestion was addressed not to Armenia, it was addressed to the Office, as, I would like to emphasize again, the project is being implemented not by Armenia but by the Office. That project was not our idea or our proposal - it was their idea. Logically, the Austrian Chairmanship was expecting that in this circumstances Azerbaijan will not have any reason to say that they are against the activities of the OSCE Yerevan Office. We also gave our consent to the Chairmanship on Office’s abstention from the implementation of that project.

The Chairmanship made a special statement highly appreciating Armenia’s very constructive approach on this issue. Azerbaijan’s representative found himself in quite a shameful isolation, started wailing, and claimed that the Office threatens Azerbaijan - without realizing or maybe even realizing that his accusations are addressed to the OSCE as such.

By the way, as you may know, Azerbaijan closed down the OSCE Office in Baku. And the OSCE Office in Yerevan is the only remaining office in the region. The real reasons for Azerbaijan’s discontent is that our country is always being set as an example, that Armenia hosts the OSCE’s only office, cooperates in a best way with that Office in all dimensions, including on human rights, freedom of speech, electoral processes and others.

And what’s the situation in Azerbaijan - shame and disgrace. They were not feeling at ease, as for them whatever is good for Armenia, is bad for Azerbaijan. They undertook such attempts, but found themselves in a shameful isolation.

By the way, the Chairmanship also stated, that a number of countries expressed readiness to support the implementation of the abovementioned demining programme. The representative of Azerbaijan said, that they will view those countries’ support to the implementation of that programme as a non-friendly act.

Furthermore, Russia, the United States, the European Union, Switzerland and Canada stated that they support the activities of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, they also commended our constructive approach on this issue. The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office also specifically clarified that while suggesting to abstain from the said programmatic activity, at the same time he underlines that other programmes should continue to be implemented intact.

Now Azerbaijan, in fact, opposes not only this one programmatic activity, but objects to everything. Azerbaijan tore its mask, though there was no need even to wear one. Everyone understood what was happening. In this institution as well Baku appeared in a total isolation. Although, if you listen to them, everyone supports them, stands next to them.

Eurasia Daily: Mr. Minister, I have two questions: there were active discussions over Lavrov’s well-known answer to the question of the Azerbaijani journalist. I would like to hear your opinion. And the second question: you have mentioned the Vienna and St. Petersburg agreements. As our neighbouring country has an ”outstanding track record” of non-implementation of the agreements, I would like to know what will be the possible position of Armenia, when at the end of a day, those agreements will fail and will not be implemented. What will be Armenia’s stance towards going, or not to the negotiations, continuing, or not this process with Azerbaijan?

Edward Nalbandian: I think Lavrov has made a clear statement and there is no need to add anything.

Just one observation. Baku insists that the journalist acted on his personal initiative. In case of Azerbaijan this sounds doubtful. But the essence of the question addressed to the Russian Foreign Minister during the press conference, in fact, was repeated by the Ambassador of Azerbaijan in Vienna in his remarks at the Permanent Council meeting.

How this can be explained? Even if we assume for a moment that it was journalist’s personal initiative, then what about the Ambassador? Probably, they would say that the Ambassador also acted upon his own initiative. We are used to such explanations. It is known that Azerbaijan, through its Ambassadors in Vienna and New York, in the UN and other institutions attempted to question the 1994-1995 trilateral ceasefire agreements between Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia which were signed without time limitations. The Co-Chairs had to call Azerbaijan to order for several times by refuting these claims and stating that the terms of those agreements do not expire, and should be strictly adhered. What was the response from Azerbaijan? They said that their Ambassadors in Vienna and New York acted upon their own initiative.

I hardly imagine an Ambassador of any country, who will disseminate on his own such note verbale within international institutions. Now they say the same regarding that journalist. They have been entangled in their lies to such an extent and they have misled their public opinion in such a way that they have found themselves in a very sad and at the same time ridiculous situation.

Regarding the second question, you know, it’s not the first time that Azerbaijan steps back from the reached agreements. Couple of minutes ago I presented a list of all those summits, numerous meetings at the level of Foreign Ministers, where agreements were reached, but afterwards Baku backtracked and rejected them.

There is no alternative to negotiations. Armenia together with the Co-Chair countries continues the efforts aimed at peaceful settlement which will ensure the rights and security of the people of Artsakh. That’s why the negotiations should be continued.

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