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Energy Projects Prevailed in Saakashvili’s Talks in Baku

Saakashvili and Aliyev pledged
friendship and cooperation.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili visited neighboring Azerbaijan in the wake of talks with his Russian and U.S. counterparts, on March 4-5.

“My visit to Baku, after the visits to Moscow and Washington, confirms how important Azerbaijan is for Georgia,” Mikheil Saakashvili said upon his arrival in Baku.  

“We, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are strategic partners, friendly neighbors and brothers, and this relationship will be preserved,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said at a joint news briefing with Mikheil Saakashvili.

There are two major factors that make Georgia and Azerbaijan so close – the U.S.-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, a multi-billion project to export crude from the Caspian Sea to world markets via Georgia and Georgia’s ethnic Azeri population of around 280 thousand, which is the country’s largest ethnic minority at the moment.

The issue of implementation of the strategic energy projects of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, as well as the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline toped the agenda during the talks between the Georgian and Azeri officials.

Both Ilham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili reiterated that BTC will start operating next year as scheduled. However, Georgian President gave indistinct warnings that “certain political forces under the pretext of ecology concerns” will try to impend project implementation.

“We expect, and I have information about this, that in a couple of months certain political forces in other countries, using the ecology issue as a pretext, will come up with a proposal to change the route of the pipeline or to stop the project,” Mikheil Saakashvili said at a joint news conference with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

“I will not allow such things to happen. Yes, there are certain ecological questions which must be resolved but they will not obstruct the implementation of the project,” Saakashvili added.

Tbilisi district court accepted a law suit of the Tbilisi-based environmental NGO Green Alternative concerning the permission to construct Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline last summer.

Manana Kochladze of the Green Alternative told Civil Georgia that the permission giving a go-ahead to construction of the Georgian portion of the BTC was issued by the Georgian Ministry of Environment in late 2002 “with the violation of law, as the decision-making process was not transparent for public.”

However, the main concern of the environmental groups is that there are no sufficient guarantees that the BTC project, led by BP, would not have negative impact on the fragile ecology of the region. Environmentalists especially fear over the 17 kilometer-long portion of the route, which runs through Georgia’s Borjomi valley, famous with its mineral waters.

While commenting on Georgian President’s statement over the threats to strategic oil pipeline, BTC executive director Michael Townsend said there is no problem with the timely completion of the construction of the pipeline.

“The route of the pipeline has been confirmed and will not be altered. Wide-ranging measures have been taken in the Georgian sector to assess the environmental impact,” Azeri news agency Trend quoted BTC executive director.

Georgian President also said that the security issues of the pipeline were discussed during his visit to the United States in late February. “The U.S. is ready to provide assistance in protecting the pipeline,” Saakashvili added.

During the discussion of other aspects of the economic cooperation Georgian President proposed to simplify customs, border and legal basis between the two countries in order to further boost trade and economic ties.

According to the agreement between Georgian and Azerbaijan, the two countries already enjoy simplified border crossing procedures, whoever Georgian side advocates further simplification of the procedures, as Saakashvili said, “in order to make for our citizens to travel easily.”

“Moreover, synchronization of customs regulations, tariff policy and even a legal basis is necessary to simplify the activities of Azerbaijani firms in Georgia and vice versa,” Saakashvili added.

Azerbaijani leader emphasized during the news conference the importance in cooperation to solve “the separatism problems” painful for the both countries.

“We face a common problem – separatism. In this regard, the international law supports us and sooner or later the territorial integrity of our countries will be restored. We support peaceful solution of the conflicts,” Ilham Aliyev said at a joint news briefing after the talks with Mikheil Saakashvili.

“We will stand together during settlement of this problem. Azerbaijan always supported Georgia’s territorial integrity,” Ilham Aliyev added.
Mikheil Saakashvili stressed the importance of the relationship of Tbilisi and Baku with Moscow. “Russia is an important partner for Georgia and Azerbaijan. We hope Russia will be a safe partner for the entire Caucasus region. This is rather important,” Georgian President said.
Georgian President called his Baku visit extremely successful, saying that Azerbaijani President is the only leader so far “with whom I can always talk freely in informal atmosphere.”

Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Heidar Aliyev as President last October stressed that he found out “many similarities between the two leaders [him and Saakashvili], that makes very easy to understand each other.”


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