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Azerbaijan: President Calls Silk Road Linking Europe And Asia Viable

  • Ben Partridge

London, 23 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev says the revival of the historic Silk Road linking Asia and Europe seems increasingly viable, with a quadrupling of the amount of cargo moved on the transit route last year.

Aliyev, who is on a four-day official visit to Britain, spoke last night to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

Aliyev stressed the growing geopolitical importance of the Caucasus and Central Asia region both as an East-West transport corridor and as the site of huge untapped reserves of oil and gas.

He said the amount of commercial cargo moved on the Silk Road route last year was 4 million tones, four times the previous year, and the total is set to rise several times this year. The cargoes last year are said to have included Uzbek cotton and Kazakh oil.

The original 6,400 km Silk Road, linking the ancient civilizations of China and Rome, ran along caravan routes across Central Asia and the Caucasus, and on to the eastern Mediterranean.

A drive to establish a modern-day equivalent began after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which saw the lifting of closed frontiers, and the re-establishment of old trading patterns.

Aliyev told his London audience: "Recent experience shows that this transport corridor is economically very beneficial."

He said Azerbaijan is to host a summit in Baku on September 7/8 that will bring together 34 national delegations from almost all the countries that lie along the new Silk Road or who have an interest in its development. They are expected to include major Asian countries (China and Japan) as well as the west Europeans.

The summit will be staged jointly with the EU which has put forward an initiative, Traceca, that envisages a new Eurasian Transport Link. Traceca comprises the five Central Asian states, the three Caucasus countries, Ukraine, Mongolia and Moldova.

The goal is to put in place a 21st century communications system -- highways, railroads, fiber optic cables, oil and gas pipelines -- linking Asia to Europe. The scheme would open up the landlocked Caucasus and Central Asian nations to the world.

Aliyev noted last night that four countries, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, signed the original agreement to create a Trans-Caspian highway and transport corridor. But the involvement of the European Commission gave the project an important boost. (One of the initiators of the Traceca initiative was former Netherlands Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek.)

Aliyev said one idea is to bring cargoes from east Asia through Turkmenistan and, from a Turkmen port, to deliver them by ferry across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan. From there they would be transported by railroad across Georgia to a Black Sea port for distribution across Europe by a number of routes. Two of the most promising lie across Ukraine and Romania.

Aliyev said, aside from opening up the Caucasus and Central Asia region, the proposed transport corridor will help "ensure peace, prosperity and stability in the region." His message to the London audience was: the Baku summit in September will be crucial.