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Azerbaijan Report: December 29, 2003

29 December 2003
Events in Georgia Will Not Affect the BTC
"Irrespective of who comes to power in Georgia, the work related to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline will proceed according to the schedule," said BP Azerbaijan President David Woodward at a 22 December press conference on the company's activities for 2003 and in the future. Asked whether the confusion and political tension in Georgia could affect the BTC construction, Woodward said he had visited Tbilisi after the leadership change in Georgia and met with high-ranking officials, including Acting President Nino Burjanadze. All of them supported the BTC and expressed the hope that the pipeline will start operating in the near future. He added that those in the Georgian current provisional government are no new figures for BP. These people held high positions in ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze's government and BP representatives met with them many times before.

Woodward pointed out that no one in the world is insured against being a terror victim. As for the BTC pipeline, BP will use all possible means to protect of the Georgian section of the pipeline.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Azerbaijani Parliament Protests to Swiss National Council
The Azerbaijani parliament expressed a protest to the Swiss Parliament for its recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide. Switzerland has become the 15th country to do so. "The historical realities have been distorted in the corresponding decision of the Swiss National Council," reads the protest statement. It is Azerbaijan that has suffered genocide at times. The massacre of March 1918 has left a negative imprint in the Azerbaijani history as a great tragedy. For that reason, March 31 is marked as the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis at the state level. The National Council of Switzerland, considering itself to be a parliament based on democratic principles, should not have adopted such a decision, the statement continues, as the world well knows that Armenia has occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory.

(Zerkhanim Ahmedli)

IMF Approves New Tranche for Azerbaijan
On 19 December the IMF has approved disbursement of a $19 million tranche to Azerbaijan within the framework of the Poverty Reduction and Growth (PRGF) program. The whole PGRF package is worth S120 million.The credit is given for 10 years with a 5.5-year grace period at 0.5% annually. The PRGF program lasts until 2005.

John Wakeman-Linn, Deputy Director of the International Monetary Fund's Second European Department, is expected to visit Baku to monitor how Azerbaijan has fulfilled its obligations to the Fund.

According to Vusal Gasimli, head of the Economic Technologies Institute, two of these obligations are of great importance: the abolition of differentiated taxes and the privatization of the International Bank of Azerbaijan. The government has agreed to meet both conditions and already taken concrete steps in this direction.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

What to Expect from the Revitalization of the Peace Process?
The theme of Karabakh has resurfaced. But will something real come from the revitalization of the peace process? Former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov, who participated in past peace negotiations, does not rule out that certain steps might be made towards a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the near future. Zulfugarov admitted that a certain revival is now being observed, referring to the recent Geneva meeting of Azeri and Armenian presidents and the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen's separate meetings with the presidents. All this proves that the co-chairmen might have new ideas. But they do not intent to publicize these ideas at the current stage. They simply want to determine how these ideas will be perceived.

According to Zulfugarov, the "package" version which envisages the settlement of the conflict once and for all, sounds rather unrealistic. The issue could be resolved "step-by-step," he said.

Hailing Russia's participation in the peace process, political scientist Rasim Musabekov said that this was anticipated. Musabekov recalled that to date France and the United States have tried to take the initiative at different times. In this context it was expected that Russia would also demonstrate initiative. But can Russia's activity prove a turning point in the settlement process? Musabekov pointed out that like other countries, Russia realizes the need of practical progress in the Karabakh problem as well. Therefore Moscow is making certain attempts. Musabekov said that anyhow, as the first step Azerbaijan would demand the release of its occupied territories. Armenia, for its part, will seek to restore transport communications and solve the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the current stage it is impossible to include the status issue on the agenda, Musabekov argued. But it makes sense to talk about the opening of transport communications and release of some occupied territories. In other words, the "step-by-step" approach is more realistic.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)