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Azerbaijan Report: April 29, 2003

29 April 2003
Iranian Foreign Minister Pushes Regional Security In Baku
On 28 April Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi paid an official visit to Azerbaijan. At the press conference, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev called his Iranian counterpart's visit to Baku "timely," adding that Iranian-Azerbaijani relations have recently widened.

Kharrazi, for his part, said that Azerbaijani occupies a special place among Iran's neighboring countries. He said that since the Azerbaijani president's 2002 visit to Iran, many problems in bilateral relations have been solved and the rest are in the process of being solved. Kharrazi said that one of his aims in visiting Baku is to prepare for the Iranian president's upcoming visit to Azerbaijan.

Kharrazi also told journalists that security in the South Caucasus is of great importance for Tehran, and this security is possible only if countries in the region can cooperate.

Kharrazi refused to respond to a question regarding Azerbaijan's participation in the anti-Iraqi coalition. Tehran thinks that a new Iraqi government must reflect the interest of all the population's layers, national ethnic and religious groups, he said.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khelef Khelefov announced on 28 April after several high-ranking meetings between Azerbaijani and Iranian officials that the two countries are close to a final decision on the Caspian Sea's legal status. He said that negotiations are now continuing on the basis of the median-line principle in both the bilateral and pentalateral formats. He also noted that in the near future the Caspian-status issue would be discussed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the participation of all five littoral Caspian states.

(Kebiran Dilaverli)

Social Democrats Holds Party Congress
On 25 April the Social Democrat Party (ASDP) held its 11th extraordinary congress, mainly to decide the party's candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The Ukrainian Social Democrat Party's representatives participated in the congress as guests.

According to Einulla Fetullaev, ASDP secretary for international relations, 39 social-democratic parties from various countries, including Socialists International, had sent congratulations to the congress.

Most local opposition leaders also congratulated the congress's participants, and expressed their readiness for close cooperation with the ASDP in the fall presidential ballot and emphasized the necessity of nominating a common candidate from the opposition.

Touching on the current problems in choosing a common candidate, ASDP co-Chairman Araz Alizade noted that if it is impossible to solve this issue, then all opposition parties could endorse another technocrat candidate. He said that such a candidate could be former deputy and National Independence Party activist Nazim Imanov.

But Imanov said that although in recent years the opposition struggled for a free and fair ballot in each election campaign, it has yet to achieve its goal. Imanov suggested the opposition this time must contend not for a fair ballot, but for winning unfair elections. As for his candidacy, Imanov said that a common candidate must certainly be elected among opposition leaders supported by specific political organizations.

"You want to decline the responsibility by putting a technocrat candidate forward. But if certain political organizations do not support this candidate, he will not be able to do anything," he said.

Then the congress participants discussed the issues regarding the activities of the co-chairmanship within the ASDP. At present the party is co-chaired by brothers Araz and Zardusht Alizade. Meanwhile, only one of them, Araz, took part in the congress. There is a rumor that Zardusht Alizade has refused the co-chairmanship and participation in the congress to protest the issues considered in the meeting.

After discussions the congress representatives decided to preserve the co-chairman institution in the ASDP. Araz Alizade was re-elected the party's co-chairman, the other co-chairman post remains vacant.

The congress participants unanimously endorsed Araz Alizade as candidate for president.

(Natig Zeinalli)

BP Dispels Doubts About BTC Construction
On 24 April BP Azerbaijan President David Woodward held a press conference on the results of the first quarter of 2003.

Woodward said that during the first quarter the company increased oil production from the Chirag field to 133,000 barrels a day. He noted that this year the company plans to spend $100 million on its operations in Azerbaijan and $21 million of this was spent in the first quarter. In the same period BP spent $439 million for capital expenses, which is expected to amount to $2 billion in 2003. In total, this year BP and its partners intend to invest more than $4.3 billion in the Azerbaijani oil industry.

Speaking about the present situation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export pipeline, Woodward said that the process of purchasing land for the pipeline is over and more than 4,300 contracts have been signed with landowners. He noted that the payment of compensation to landowners would be completed by June.

Woodward pointed out that the pipes needed for the pipeline's construction were brought to Baku in January. Construction, expected to be finished in the fourth quarter of 2004, is proceeding according to the approved $2.95 billion budget and work schedule. On the other hand, BP and the other companies united under the BTC project, continue negotiations with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), as well as export-credit agencies and commercial banks for financing the BTC. Next month, IFC and EBRD will hold a 120-day public meeting regarding the financing of the BTC project.

Woodward said that the companies had hoped to get loans from international financial institutions by the second quarter, but it will be delayed until the end of this year. He pointed out that from the beginning of the project's realization the companies have considered the possibility of delays in loans from international financial organizations. But at the same time, the 30 percent of the common budget financed by the BTC companies at their own expense could be used up by the end of May or beginning of June. Therefore, in order to continue work, these companies will have to appeal to their internal sources until the loans are approved. But Woodward is sure that in general this problem will not affect the pipeline's construction.

Touching on recent allegations about possible delays in the construction of the BTC's Turkish sector, Woodward said that on 21 April he met with Turkey's energy minister and prime minister to discuss this matter. At present the construction work in Turkey is going according to the approved schedule. The substitution of the manager of Botash, which is constructing the pipeline's Turkish sector, actually created the possibility of a delay in the construction. But during the negotiations with Turkish officials all problems were solved.

Responding to a statement that international financial organizations' interest in the BTC has waned since the war in Iraq, Woodward said that "for so many years we have met with you and discussed the construction of the BTC pipeline. The people say that...there are alternatives to the BTC, the issue regarding the financing will not be solved, there are ecological problems in Georgia, and so on. But we say that we are aware of all this, but we will construct this pipeline. The debates have finished, the pipeline is already built...18 months later we will meet you here again and say that the pipeline's construction is over and we have begun to send the oil."

Woodward stated that the BTC project in general would employ 10,000 people, 2,300 of which will be Azerbaijanis. At present some 1,000 Azerbaijanis work at BP Azerbaijan, with another 100 hired this year.

Woodward also said that the realization of the Azeri project has employed more than 4,000 Azerbaijanis, adding that in 2004 this figure would increase to 6,000. Moreover, some 5,500 Azerbaijanis are planned to be involved in the Shah Deniz project.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Under the headline "The government is in crisis," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that the problem with President Heidar Aliev's health has created the prerequisites for some changes in the country's political life.

Under the headline "A clean mirror does not accept stains," the governmental newspaper "Khalg " criticizes some opposition newspapers' recent activities regarding the president's health.

Azerbaijani newspapers also ran articles devoted to Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visit to Baku.

The independent newspaper "Ekho" cites Azerbaijani Ambassador to Iran Abbaseli Hesenov saying that an Azerbaijani consulate in Tebriz will be opened in 2003. Hesenov noted that the practical side of this issue was solved during President Aliev's visit to Tehran in May 2002.

According to the independent newspaper "525," the Prosecutor-General's Office will file charges against human rights activist Eldar Zeinalov. A group has been formed to investigate Zeinalov's activities. Similar steps could be also made against other human rights activists, like Leila Yunus and Arzu Abdullaeva.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," media representatives express their opinion about whether today's information regarding the head of state's health corresponds to ethics. Press Council Chairman Eflatun Amashov said that the ultimate goal of journalism is to spread the truth. Irrespective of anyone's personality and position, journalists must always respect a person's honor and dignity, as well as the principle of noninterference in a person's personal life. But this principle is not followed in some news of the Azerbaijani president. This principle has also been violated with respect to the leaders of political parties, and these violations continue. Amashov noted that the presidential administration's press service should sometimes inform the media about the president's health to prevent baseless information in the media and to provide citizens with unbiased and practical information. This is a rule accepted throughout the world. Another member of the Press Council, Ganimet Zahidov, noted that unethical expressions in the Azerbaijani press tend to be voiced in pro-government and government media outlets and television.

Parliamentarian Gudret Hasanguliev, head of one of the three factions of the People's Front Party (AXCP), says in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" that a certain tension is really felt in society because of the president's health. This is related to the fact that the opposition's radical faction has built its policy on Aliev's health. It has long spread propaganda in this direction. Now the president's health has set these groups in motion. Hasanguliev noted that although the president is now receiving home treatment, he continues to lead the country himself. Moreover, there are ministries controlling corresponding spheres and each of them leads their sphere. "Any person can fall ill, and I am against using it for political gain," he concludes.

An author writing only as Rasim in the article "The government is warming to Iran " in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyet" comments on Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's 28 April visit to Baku. Rasim writes that at present Iran is strengthening its relations with Azerbaijan in the light of the new geopolitical realities in the region after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad. The author cites the IRNA news agency as saying that Baku itself gives great attention to widening relations with Iran in the framework of real conditions. Rasim notes that the failure of the Azerbaijani government's activities abroad regarding the upcoming presidential ballot has caused the warming in the relationship between Baku and Tehran. That is probably why Novruz Memmedov, head of the Department of International Relations within the presidential administration, has stated that any third side would not be able to interfere in the development of Iranian-Azerbaijani relations. But it should not be forgotten that under existing conditions Iran's influence on political processes within Azerbaijan is too weak. Experts point out that after the government failed to gain the United States', Russia's, and Western Europe's approval regarding the presidential ballot, its hopes that it can win Tehran's approval has no chance of success. Despite all the government's efforts, the fact that its prestige within the country and the democratic West amounts to zero necessitates a change of government in Azerbaijan by the end of the year.

An author writing only as Nadir in the article "What does Kharrazi's visit promise?" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" notes that at present Tehran's need for Baku is more than Baku's need for Tehran. In other words, there is a serious situation in the international arena. Powers such as China, the European Union, and Russia, which Iran could rely on in its struggle against the United States, did not pass the test of the Iraqi crisis. As the Western press writes, the lessons of the Iraq crisis have placed Tehran in a position that it must take certain steps. As for Iran's neighboring countries, it is unlikely that Persian Gulf countries, which played a direct role in Hussein's collapse, will provide strong support to Iran. Iran is now surrounded with U.S. military bases, and under the circumstances, Tehran's rapprochement with Azerbaijan and Turkey can be considered as the best alternative. First of all because Azerbaijani and Turkish peoples have ethnic ties with the Iranian Azeri population. On the other hand, these two countries are of great importance in Iran's relations with Russia and Europe. Any tension in Turkish and Azerbaijani relations with Iran could lead to a full blockade of the Islamic Republic.

An author writing only as Aranli in an article entitled "Eggs' 'salute' in Baku or the right to turn out the devil" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" points out that the government is trying to divert the people's attention from vital problems and draw their attention to minor questions. Or rather, the ruling circles, which sense the end of Aliev's "epoch" have begun to resort to other methods to attract people to their camp. In order to force the people to forget Nagorno-Karabakh, these circles have gone on a hunt for "Armenians." Human rights activist Eldar Zeinalov is accused of colluding with Armenians and protesters have demanded that he get out of Azerbaijan. Since last week pickets and actual "egg attacks" have been organized in front of his office in Baku. Aranli writes that the cooperation with the enemy state's representatives is not new for Azerbaijan. "The practice" in this sphere has been known at all times. And this cooperation is held not on the level of human rights activists, but on the official one. Aranli recalls that in 1991-93, when the Azerbaijani lands were under continuous attack by the Armenians, Nakhichevan Supreme Majlis Chairman Heidar Aliyev protected Nakhichevan from these attacks by conducting separate talks with Armenia. "Nakhichevan is not Karabakh," Aliyev said. After Aliyev seized power in 1993, these negotiations were raised to a higher level. The author recalls some Azerbaijani ministers' visits to Armenia and their meetings with Armenians. The government needs protests against human rights activists to divert public attention from current political realities and to benefit from them.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)