Azerbaijan has committed stronger and longer contributions to the international peace effort in Afghanistan, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO said in an interview to The Business Year magazine.
"NATO and Azerbaijan have recently taken important steps to deepen our partner¬ship farther. For over six decades, NATO has united democratic nations from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Today, we have 28 allies committed to defend not only our shared security, but also our common values: freedom, democracy, and human rights. We operate under a firm principle: all for one, and one for all. That means that if one ally is threatened, all the other allies will come to its defense," Rasmussen said.
He said that NATO will continue to build on the success of working with our partners to deepen the understanding and trust that we have built together over the past two decades and to consolidate the invalu¬able practical experience that our military forces have gained by working together in Afghanistan and in other NATO-led mis¬sions and operations.
"We are determined to work more closely with our partners, in¬cluding those in this region. We need part¬ners who share our desire for security and our values. In this respect, we encourage Azerbaijan to pursue democratic reforms in certain areas such as elections and free media, which will first and foremost ben¬efit the country. I also believe that there is more we can do together when we it comes to practical cooperation. I believe that this is a two-way street with benefits for NATO and all of its partners," Rasmussen underlined.
This partnership also supports Azerbaijan's reforms, especially in defense, where it is developing a mod¬ern and accountable military force that is relevant to today's security challenges and able to play its part in multinational operations, he said.
"Much of our cooperation is fo¬cused on military-to-military exercises, such as training and education. We are also deepening our cooperation on energy and cyber security. This might seem far away from the needs of average people, but we also do things together that may have more tangible benefits," he said.
For example, he said the NATO and the Azerbaijan Mine Agency have removed large quantities of land mines from the soil in this country.
"Half a million unexploded munitions have been defused. This is one of the biggest projects of this nature in the world, and our work is freeing up hundreds of hectares of land for agriculture and de¬velopment. This project is literally "paving the way" to a better future, and I might add that the Azerbaijani agency is now help¬ing with de-mining in other countries, including Afghanistan," Rasmussen underlined.
According to him, however, this region still faces great security challenges. "Azerbaijan has a com¬plicated neighborhood and the most press¬ing regional challenge remains finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh Con¬flict," Rasmussen said.
He said the only way forward is through dialogue, compromise, and cooperation.
"NATO as an organization is not involved directly in finding a solution to this conflict, nor do we take sides, but we will continue to support the Minsk Pro¬cess and efforts toward a peaceful settle¬ment," he underscored.
According to Rasmussen, ten¬sions in this region must be reduced, and concrete steps must be taken to promote reasonable cooperation and reconciliation.
"Azerbaijan is an important partner for NATO and we have already achieved a great deal together. We have an opportu¬nity to do much more to solidify our long-term partnership, strengthen our political dialogue and practical corporation," he added.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France and the U.S. - are currently holding peace negotiations.
Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.