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    Ambassador: Hungary will promote image of Azerbaijan as reliable partner for NATO - INTERVIEW

    'As NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan, we plan a sizable conference on regional security issues in second half of 2017'

    Baku. 22 February. REPORT.AZ/ Report News Agency presents an interview with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Hungary to Azerbaijan Imre Laslotsky:

    - Recently, you've visited Brussels for the instructions regarding the mandate of NATO Contact point in Azerbaijan. Could you please give us more information about meetings you've hold in Brussels? What tasks were determined for the embassy of Hungary as the Contact point of NATO?

    - First, I would like to clarify or if you wish to give a little explanation on the role of a Contact Point Embassy (CPE) in a Partner country. In your question you have asked about “instructions” and “tasks”. As a matter of fact, we did not receive any instructions and we were not tasked in Brussels. Deriving from the open, transparent and democratic nature of the Alliance, “assuming a CPE is a voluntary undertaking”, thus you cannot be instructed. There are four basic principles of being a CPE. I have mentioned the first one, which is the voluntary nature of our mission in Azerbaijan. The second principle is that “CPEs are subject to rotation”. It means that the current CPE mandate of the Hungarian Embassy in Azerbaijan – as a basic rule – will last for two years, till the end of 2018. However, it can be renewed for one more term. The third CPE principle is “equality of treatment”. It means that all NATO nations have equal chance to draw up its proposal between the Partner nation and NATO. Finally, the principle is transparency of the CPE selection process. These principles were approved by all NATO nations in 2004 and were supplemented by the Terms of References for Contact Embassies.

    Based on these Terms of References (ToRs), the duties and obligations of a given NATO CPE are predetermined; we can say that ToRs are a set of possible tasks, a framework for CPE work. And the tasks planned and implemented will depend on the CPE and, equally importantly by the respective Partner nation.

    As you know, Hungary and Azerbaijan are strategic partners with excellent working relations in different areas, like political, economic, cultural, educational, just to mention a few. I also think that people-to-people exchange through visiting each other countries is at a very high level. All these means that Hungary is enjoying the trust of Azeri people, the Azeri political leadership, we work on the further development of excellent and productive relations. The Hungarian government, political leadership and relevant state bodies and organizations were convinced that Hungary can be a credible and good conduit between NATO and Azerbaijan.

    So, guiding principles are laid down, and the amount of tasks and their qualities will depend both on Hungary and Azerbaijan. The more meaningful project we complete the more we will give to NATO and Azerbaijan. NATO-Azeri relations should be a two-way street, where Hungary is playing the role of supporter and facilitator. However, we intend to bring something new in these relations that only Hungary can give, based on our excellent bilateral contacts.

    In short we had different briefings and discussions in Brussels, dealing with many topics. Just to mention a few; we discussed NATO’s basic missions in the changing strategic security environment, NATO’s defense and deterrence, NATO’s partnership and projecting stability, NATO’s communication strategies. And these last two subjects are most relevant to our NATO CPE mission. Of course, we also discussed regional aspects of partnership, concerning the Caucasus area, including Azerbaijan. We shared the experiences of CPE nations in the region with the lead of NATO’s Regional Office in Georgia.

    Among other programmes at NATO Headquarters I also met with Azerbaijan’s NATO Ambassador in Brussels, Mr. Khazar Ibrahim and we shared our visions how we perceive Hungary’s role as NATO CPE in Azerbaijan. We stated with satisfaction that we need to act in concert with all players involved, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, other government bodies and institutions, higher educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and last, but not least the Azeri media outlets.

    - What input can Hungary make for the strengthening the relations between NATO and Azerbaijan?

    - Hungary and the Hungarian Embassy in Baku will promote the image of Azerbaijan as a reliable and credible Partner for NATO, as it really is. We will keep communication channels open between NATO and Azerbaijan, we will facilitate high level political exchanges, we will organize meetings, seminars, and we will support NATO visits to Azerbaijan, even at the highest level. Moreover, we will support and facilitate Azeri institutions, educational or media to visit NATO Headquarters in Brussels. We will communicate NATO’s strategy after NATO summits and important meetings, I will give interviews in the media to facilitate understanding what we are doing here in Azerbaijan, what NATO does out there in the global security environment.

    Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Hungary to Azerbaijan Imre Laslotsky

    I must tell you that at the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO Allies underlined the importance of enhancing efforts to project stability and strengthen security. NATO’s partnership have proven to be an invaluable tool in achieving these aims and will continue to be essential to building a broad cooperative security network. And Azerbaijan is an important hub/center of this network. Contact Point Embassies play a vital role in this regard, contributing to NATO’s outreach efforts across the globe.

    I must emphasize that NATO CPE and Partners walk hand-in-hand, there good relationship and contribution to NATO’s security efforts are unimaginable without the PARTNERS. I very much hope that Azerbaijan will continue to cooperate with NATO in the same manner as she has been doing it in the last quarter of the century, after signing NATO’S Partnership for Peace Programme in March 1992.

    - What's the expectation of Hungary regarding NATO Brussels summit?

    - As you know NATO Summits are held in every two years. The last two summits took place in London and Warsaw in 2014 and 2016 respectively. However, NATO can decide to convene an “irregular” summit. As you can read on the NATO official website, the next NATO summit will be hosted by Belgium (Brussels) in 2017, in the new Headquarters.

    Summit meetings are often held at key moments in the Alliance’s evolution – they are not regular meetings, but important junctures in the Alliance’s decision-making process. And we are at such a junction in 2017, after the London and Warsaw summits. The United States elected a new President, we must review whether the decisions of the last two summits are implemented as they were intended, and these can be main topics of discussion in Brussels. But if we just relate back to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg phone conversation with US President Donald J. Trump, there are plenty on the plate, such issues as fight against terrorism and on NATO defense spending, violence in eastern Ukraine, and prospects for a peaceful settlement, the NATO-Russia relations. Just to mention a few. We expect that NATO’s top decision-makers will approve the progress implementing previous summit decisions and will make corrections if needed.

    - On which level is the cooperation between NATO and Azerbaijan within IPAP? Can we expect visits of NATO high-level officials to Azerbaijan?

    - Azerbaijan joined the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) programme in 2004, but even before the country was ready for tailor-made cooperation with NATO. This means that Azerbaijan distinguished herself from the very beginning of the cooperation with NATO. Good example for it is that Azerbaijan joined the PfP Presentation Document in 1996 and the Planning and Review Process (PARP) in 1997. The country has successfully already completed 4 IPAP cycles, starting from 2005. As a result of successfully completed IPAP cycles, the Azeri Defence Forces are capable of fulfilling their national obligations, participate in NATO-led operations and cooperate with other PfP armies, or train for example soldiers of the Afghan National Army. These are huge achievements and based on the reform of the Defence Forces, the reform of the entire military establishment. The people of Azerbaijan are rightfully proud of their National Armed Forces. Part of these forces operate according to NATO standards, participate in NATO-led operations, energy security, civil emergency planning and addressing emerging security challenges.

    Yes, Azerbaijan can expect the visit of high level NATO delegations even in 2017. Our intent is to invite senior NATO officials to Baku to participate in different events. Besides, we also expect expert team visits to Baku and the first of these visits will take place in March. This will be a PARP visit that will help the Azeri Armed Forces to improve their capabilities and be able to increase the number of units trained according to NATO standards.

    - How does Hungary as a NATO country evaluates the participation of Azerbaijan in NATO led operations in Afghanistan?

    - NATO political and military leadership, and also all the member nations – including Hungary - highly appreciate Azerbaijan’s contribution to NATO-led military operations. NATO Secretary Generals repeatedly expressed their highest appreciation to Azerbaijan for participating in NATO mission in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Secretary General Rasmussen thanked President Ilham Aliyev during his visit to NATO HQ in 2014 and SecGen Stoltenberg expressed his gratitude during Resolute Support Mission meeting last December to Elmar Mammadyarov in Brussels. To put boots on the ground together with NATO nations – or as the soldiers say: “smell the same dirt” - this is the biggest achievement for a Partner nation. Currently 94 Azeri soldiers serve in Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan to help to train ANA.

    Other than troop contribution Azerbaijan shows solidarity with the Alliance by contributing to NATO’s Afghanistan Trust Funds, which is also a valuable support to the Afghan Army.

    - Shall we expect any events with participation of Azerbaijan within the framework of Hungary's mandate of Contact point?

    - NATO has a big basket for Partners to improve, to develop NATO compatible forces through cooperation with NATO nations and Partner nations. This basket contains about 1600 programs every year. Azerbaijan and its military participate in about 200 programs each year within the Partnership for Peace program. This is a huge number that requires tremendous resources. It goes of course to the benefit of the Partner and also to the benefit of NATO. During the next two years however, we would like to pick up something from this basket that is offered by the Hungarian Defence Forces and convince our Azeri friends to join this project. We very much hope that we will be successful in this effort.

    As the NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan we are also planning a sizable conference on regional security issues in the second half of 2017.

    - How can you assess the launching the discussions between EU and Azerbaijan on the Strategic Partnership Agreement?

    - It is a very important step in the strengthening of the cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan. Hungary in every way supports the development of relations between Azerbaijan and the EU.

    On 14 November 2016, the Council adopted a mandate for the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to negotiate, on behalf of the EU and its member states, a comprehensive agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan. The new agreement should replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and better take account of the shared objectives and challenges the EU and Azerbaijan face today. Negotiations on the new agreement have practically been launched on 7 February 2017, following the visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Brussels.. The new agreement will follow the principles endorsed in the 2015 review of the European neighbourhood policy and offer a renewed basis for political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan.

    - Recently, the Hungarian government announced the acceptation of documents from Azerbaijani students to study in Hungary. How many students applied this year so far and can we expect the prolongation of the agreement between Azerbaijan and Hungary?

    - Since the online application was opened a few days ago, it is too early to tell anything about the numbers. But we hope that this good idea, this outstanding program will be extended for another three years. Last year about 180 students got the scholarship, this year he hope that we can involve even more students in this program.

    - Can we expect any other projects or visits between Azerbaijan and Hungary?

    - Yes, we are working on President Aliyev’s visit to Budapest in this year, and on the next session of the Intergovernmental Committee in Hungary. In cooperation with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the MFA of Hungary the Embassy will organize on the 16-17th of March a number of cultural and scientific events under the title “Days of Hungary in Baku”. In the frame of these days book and movie presentation, fashion show, art exhibitions, musical concerts and gastronomic event will take place in Baku. In autumn we will also organize some cultural and scientific events, dedicated to the anniversary of Zoltán Kodály, the great Hungarian composer and teacher and also to the “Greatest Hungarian”, István Széchenyi.

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