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Azerbaijan: NATO Official Discusses Baku's Future

Pierre Lellouche (NATO) In recent weeks, Azerbaijan has received greater international attention, partly because of the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. In particular, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited Washington at the end of April to discuss a range of issues, including Iran, energy security, and democratic reform. RFE/RL correspondent Mais Alizade spoke with Pierre Lellouche, the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, about the nuclear dispute, the disputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan's chances of joining the alliance. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly brings together parliamentarians from the alliance's member states. Azerbaijan has been a member of NATO's Partnership For Peace program since 1994.

RFE/RL: What can you say about relations between Azerbaijan and NATO?

Pierre Lellouche: Azerbaijan is an associate member of parliament. It's doing fine. We are expecting a strong Azeri delegation in Paris at the end of May for the plenary session. And the president of Azerbaijan, Mr. Aliyev, has accepted my invitation to come to Paris in May, so at the end of this month he will be in Paris. It will be interesting because he will be answering questions from the parliamentarians. There will be other chiefs of state invited, but I'm glad that he has accepted the invitation.

RFE/RL: Do you believe that Azerbaijan, after 10 or 15 years, will be a member of NATO?

Lellouche: That I do not know. But I know that Azerbaijan has a lot of potential: great economic resources, great mobilization of the country toward development. And if the road towards democracy is consolidated, and if they so desire, I think it [NATO membership] should be envisaged and [NATO should] look at it. And we will definitely look at it, if there is a desire by Azerbaijan to join the alliance, we will look at it. But, you know, there are conditions in terms of the adaptation of the military system, in terms of economic development I think Azerbaijan is catching up very quickly. And then there is the problem of democracy and political evolution.

RFE/RL: And human rights?

Lellouche: Well, I mean that is an internal question and I'm hopeful that Azerbaijan will be fully compatible with the democratic principles of the alliance.

RFE/RL: What can you say about the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the role of NATO?

Lellouche: Well, we are trying to be helpful, you know. I'm going tomorrow night [May 3] to Georgia to try and help the question of Georgian-Russian relations and I have been myself, just before I was president of the assembly, to see [Armenian] President [Robert] Kocharian and President Aliyev. We are trying to help in finding a solution, because it's very destructive, a loss and waste of resources, human life, suffering, which must be put behind [us]. The Caucasus needs stability. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia need to do something else [other] than just building weapons and being in this state of cold war. I have been in the trenches [in Nagorno-Karabakh] and I know how difficult it is for the two nations and I know the question of refugees in Azerbaijan and I'm very sympathetic to the suffering. So anything we can do -- and you know my country France is a member of the Minsk Group -- I have invited also President Kocharian to Paris because I'm hoping that the two presidents will work it out through negotiations and the war is not a solution.

RFE/RL: And what about Iran's nuclear program and the dangers for the Caucasus?

Lellouche: I think it's in the interests of nobody for Iran [to have] nuclear weapons. It's a very difficult question. It's a major threat for everyone, not just for Israel as most people think it's a problem only for Israel. It's not. It's a problem for Europe because very quickly most of out cities will be within range of nuclear missiles. It's a problem for countries like Turkey, for the Middle East as a whole.

RFE/RL: For the Caucasus also?

Lellouche: For the Caucasus as well. And I am afraid of the, you know, snowball effect that this will have on many countries in the area, Muslim and non-Muslim, because a lot of countries are very nervous about Iran getting nuclear weapons. Now I think they have the right to have access to nuclear energy like everyone, for the post-oil, post-gas situation. Obviously, we have to fix the energy question. On the other hand, we also have to make sure that we limit the number of nuclear powers, otherwise it will quickly get out of hand.

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