'More and more people out of Azerbaijan realize uniqueness of this country'

Fri 06 Apr 2012 03:00 GMT | 07:00 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Michael Lotem, ambassador of Israel to Azerbaijan.

Mr. Ambassador, 20 years have passed since the establishment of diplomatic relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel. How do you assess the level of these relations formed during this period?

Ever since the beginning, there were very close relations. But in the last ten years, we saw a positive rising in every area, in every field of them. And I can say that in the last three years, things again took another, a very positive term. It's not between less good or better, but good, excellent and whatever goes beyond. We have very good intimate relations, a lot of understanding. You see the world in similar colours with opportunities and threats. There are a lot of common interests. And there is also a personal friendship between our leaders.

The both countries seem to be decisive to develop economic relations. In general, do our countries have enough potential to lead this cooperation and what's the volume of trade turnover and mutual investments between the two countries?

The volume is nice, because Israel is leading the list if you think about oil import, but as a final destination, because you can register other countries which are major importers of oil, there the oil goes to other countries. But Israel is the end user of the Azeri oil and leading the list. The potential is really big, because we are always looking for new markets out of Israel because Israel has small market. Many Israeli businessmen themselves are interested in areas such as agriculture, light industry, communication, medicine, as well as petrochemical products which Israelis know very well how to do. Azerbaijan was and is an important player in this sphere. So definitely, the potential is very big not only the potential. I also see things happening. I see more and more Israelis willing to invest money in Azerbaijan, which is not something very usual for Israelis, which is the indication of the wish and trust. There are at least two or three projects in industry, which should be finalized in a few months.

As Azerbaijan, Israel is also located in a complicated geographical location. The both countries have suffered from terrorism. So we would like to know, how does Israel see the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

The solution is coming through the negotiations. Judging from our experience, the only way of the solution is that the parties seat together and they agree at what they want to agree.

One of today's protracted conflicts is the Israeli-Palestinian problem. How do you assess the current state of this problem and what's the solution to this?

The solution by all Israelis is obviously the acceptance of the two states – the Palestinian state and the Israeli, the Jewish state. For this the Palestinians have to accept that the Jews have a right to have their own state, but some Palestinians also agree to the two-state solution. But their two states are the Palestinian state and another Palestinian state. In other words, we say that there should be two states – the Israeli Jews state and Palestinian state. But the Palestinian said that when they bring one, two or three million Palestinians out of Palestine or the region, they should have the right to come not only to Palestine but also to Israel. In this case, it will not be an Israeli Jewish state. It will be a Palestinian state. They want to change the ethnic composition of Israel. Then between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, there will be Palestinian majority, and Jews will be minority.

Recently, the committee of the Knesset has discussed so called "Armenian genocide". Will this issue come to the agenda of the Israeli parliament?

The committee will discuss, but I think it will not go beyond. This issue should be kept to historians, not dealt by the politicians.      

One of the crucial issues in the region today is the nuclear program of Iran. The Azerbaijani side has stated that it would not allow its territory to be used against this country. How does Israel assess Azerbaijan's position in this regard?

Azerbaijan is a part of the international community. It's a member of the UN Security Council. The international community has a very clear position on Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reports that Iran is developing a nuclear armament and Iran is not cooperating with this agency. UN Security Council has resolutions on Iran and, as far as I know and I appreciate that Azerbaijan follows these policies.

The influential Foreign Policy magazine has published an article saying that Israel and Azerbaijan agreed to cooperate against Israel. How true do you think is this information?

Obviously, in this struggle of the international community with Iran, everybody uses all possible, almost all possible ways. Media is one tool, which is being used. And I think about other articles which probably originate from Iran. In this struggle, everybody writes what he wishes. It can be information or misinformation. I don’t think we should seriously address every piece that is written. Otherwise, we will go nuts. I mean, each time someone will write something, and this is not the way we should analyze the articles. Not all information in media can be true. And no one believes that Azerbaijan could go into conflict with Iran.

The United States has declared that it does not wish to launch military operation against Iran. In this case, can Israel proceed to military conflict with Iran in the near future?

To be accurate, the US didn’t say that does not want to use military force against Iran. The US said that all options are on the table. But for now, more strict sanctions should be imposed, and there is an oil sanction coming in June. But this does not mean that military option here is excluded.

How do you assess current relations between Israel and Turkey?

Recently, there have been some developments in the region. I guess, for Turkish leadership, this is generally a policy. They had specific thoughts vis-a-vis Iran. We think things are not as they thought. And they have specific thoughts about Syria, and things are not definitely as they thought, so on so forth. Turkey is a very important country for us and for the region. We try to get things straight with Turkey but it didn’t look the Turkish leadership can take common position yet.

Recently, the Azerbaijani law enforcement bodies have detained some terrorist groups attempting to attack and kill US and Israeli citizens in Azerbaijan. With this background in mind, how safe do you feel yourself here?

I feel safe. I sympathise with the hard work that your security forces are facing. Facing Iranians is not an easy thing for everybody. I feel safe to go where I wish to go. I go and give lectures to university. In some other countries, it is not possible to go anywhere, not because of the Iranians but because of whatever reasons. If winter is cold, it has nothing to do with Iranians. Here, I feel very comfortable.

How do you assess the forming military cooperation between the two countries? And, by the way, how do you assess Iran's concern over this cooperation?

Forgive me, if I don’t sympathize with the position of Iran. Military cooperation is one type of cooperation out of many. It also develops just like as energy, cultural and economic cooperation.

What can you say about the prospects of the relations? What is expected from these relations this year?

We see more businessmen coming and going between our countries. They also cooperate beyond our countries. I see more and more businessmen coming to Azerbaijan and going to Israel. The cooperation in energy, of course will be in the centre of attention. We have some cultural projects as well. We have some visits on the agenda. And we have good political dialogue within the UN Security Council. I also hope that Israel will win the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku.

I would also like to talk about tourism. Not many tourists from Israel are coming. It's frustrating that the flights are limited. Israel should do more. Azerbaijan should do more. For example, there is a flood of Israeli tourists to Georgia, and there are four or five flights in a week to Georgia. The same should be applied to Azerbaijan.

To resume, I am very glad to see how Azerbaijan is growing into the international arena. It involves all spheres, not only the UN Security Council, Eurovision, places in the Olympic Games, but also other spheres, which is a good sign. More and more people out of Azerbaijan realize the uniqueness of this country. In most of the European countries, you see cemeteries of Jews killed for some anti-Semitic reasons, but you don’t see it here. People come here and mention the Jewish community, and this is meaningful. The Azerbaijani Shiite Muslim country and Israeli Jewish country does not go unnoticed. I hope and I think that despite the fact that both Azerbaijan and Israel have complicated neighbourhood, we will grow our relations.

Parvana Sultanova
Taleh Kerimov




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