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Azerbaijan: President Visits Britain To Talk Business

  • Ben Partridge

London, 20 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev is in London for a state visit that will include talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair and meetings with businessmen expected to focus on investment opportunities in his country.

Azerbaijan is the location of large reserves of oil and gas that are expected to play an important role in helping to meet the world's rising demand for energy into the 21st century.

The 75-year-old former Soviet politburo member is expected to appeal for more British investment in the oil and gas sector of the small Caucasus country of some 7.5 million people.

One of his key engagements is an address on Wednesday to a conference in London on "Doing Business in Azerbaijan". Press reports say he is expected to sign three oil deals with British firms (Ramco, British Petroleum and Monument Oil and Gas), expected to be worth more than $5 billion to Azerbaijan.

Aliyev will also address the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Wednesday). He is expected to focus on Azerbaijan's place in the world, and the importance of its hydrocarbon reserves. He is also due to meet with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook

In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Aliyev defended 12 production sharing agreements he has signed so far with foreign oil consortia to explore and develop the Caspian shelf off the coast of Azerbaijan. He countered local criticism that his government is giving away its riches and should wait until it can afford to develop its own resources, saying this is unrealistic. He said Azerbaijan has neither the technology, equipment nor the money to develop its oil and gas sector on its own.

Azerbaijan's economy has only recently started to grow following hyperinflation and disruption caused by its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Like other Caucasus and Central Asian countries, it suffers from dire poverty.

Aliyev is also expected to discuss the route of export pipelines to carry Caspian Sea oil and gas to western markets. Azerbaijan, like other oil-rich countries in the region, lacks access to the open seas, meaning that their energy exports will have go overland. Aliyev has declared in favor of a main export pipeline on the Baku-Ceyhan route through Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean.

Aliyev's talks with Blair are scheduled for tomorrow afternoon (15:30 CEST). He will then meet Defense Secretary George Robertson. They are expected to discuss cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace program.

Aliyev first became leader of Azerbaijan 29 years ago as Communist Party secretary. He spent five years in the Soviet politburo in the 1980s before being sacked by Mikhail Gorbachev. He made a political comeback in Azerbaijan in 1993.

Aliyev was due today to meet George Foulkes who is responsible for the Department of International Development. He will attend a lunch hosted by a Foreign Office Minister Douglas Henderson.

Tonight, he will attend an Anglo-Azeri reception.

Tomorrow (Tuesday), before his talks with Blair, he will attend a lunch hosted by Britain's Board of Trade. He will attend a dinner at the London Guildhall tomorrow night.

On Wednesday, he will meet with the Azeri community, attend a lunch hosted by the all-Britain-Azerbaijan parliamentary group. and attend a dinner hosted by Foreign Secretary Cook. On Thursday, he goes to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, where he will attend a dinner at the city's historic castle. He will leave Britain on Friday.