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Azerbaijan: Aliyev Wraps Up Visit To Kazakhstan

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ends a two-day visit to Kazakhstan today. Bilateral trade and economic relations were central to the talks.

Prague, 2 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ends a two-day visit to Kazakhstan today after meeting with his counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev, Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev.

Both sides signed a declaration of friendship and strategic partnership as well as cooperation agreements on the energy, transport, military, and humanitarian-cultural sectors.

After his talks with Nazarbaev, Aliyev told a press conference his visit will serve as a "new milestone" in the development of relations between the two states. "The implementation of energy and transportation projects today will, to a large extent, help ensure a higher level of security and cooperation in the region," he said. "Of course, the involvement of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in resolving energy problems, issues, and projects in the Caspian region is a decisive factor in the development of energy resources in the Caspian area."

Nazarbaev agreed that the visit will raise bilateral relations to a new level, stressing there are no obstacles, either political or economic, to a heightened partnership. Concerning oil and gas cooperation, he said: "We have agreed to expand our relations in three directions. First of all, [in] the oil and gas field. The Azerbaijani side has a wide experience in the field, it has facilities for the production of oil and gas equipment, it has specialists, and we can work together to achieve greater success and exchange our experience and equipment."

Nazarbaev underlined that the development of energy transport will make it possible for Kazakhstan to obtain access to world markets via the Caucasus. He also supported the project to build the 1,760-kilometer Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which is to link Azerbaijan's offshore Caspian oil fields with the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan via Georgia.

"The second area [of cooperation] is transportation,” Nazarbaev said. “We can develop a transportation system between Aqtau and Baku that will allow Kazakhstan to get an alternative outlet, via the Caucasus, to the world market. This is a railway transport project, but the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is also of huge interest to us."

Kazakhstan transported 3 million tons of oil in 2003 -- almost one-third more than in 2002 -- across Azerbaijan. The oil is delivered by tankers from Kazakhstan's Caspian Sea coast to Baku and then transported by railway to Georgia's Black Sea coast.

The Kazakh and Azerbaijani defense ministers also signed an agreement on military cooperation. Interfax cited the Kazakh defense minister, army General Mukhtar Altynbaev, as saying this document creates a basis for deepening cooperation between the two states as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

Altynbaev noted that the agreement also envisages closer military and technical partnership between the two states' navies in the Caspian Sea, including the exchange of expertise in training military personnel. Both countries have naval schools.

The two presidents also confirmed they would stick to bilateral agreements on the contentious issue of the Caspian Sea's legal status, which has been in limbo since the 1991 Soviet breakup. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan have signed bilateral agreements on the demarcation of their Caspian borders. Another littoral state, Iran, hasn't agreed to establishing the borders, because with the shortest coastline, it would be left with the least resources. Turkmenistan, the fifth Caspian Sea state, has not taken a firm stand.

Nazarbaev also said he is ready if necessary to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which has prompted an inflow of Azerbaijani refugees to Kazakhstan.

"The conflict continues and it doesn't make anyone happy, by the way. All Armenians suffer from it, and so does the Armenian state, which has found itself in a blocked position: the conflict hinders the economic development and the improvement of living conditions in Armenia. On the other hand, a million Azerbaijani refugees who were expelled from their country suffer here. So this conflict doesn't bring any good to anybody," Nazarbaev said.

Ilham Aliyev succeeded his father Heidar to Azerbaijan's presidency last October following an election that raised accusations of vote rigging and resulted in a crackdown on the political opposition.

Novruz Mamedov, the head of the foreign affairs department of Aliyev's administration, told ITAR-TASS that the Azerbaijani president's visit to Kazakhstan and upcoming trips to Uzbekistan and Turkey indicate that relations with Turkic-speaking countries remain one of the priorities for Azerbaijan's foreign policy. The two visits are slated for the second half of March and mid-April, respectively.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhanov contributed to this report.)