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Azerbaijani, Afghan, Turkmen presidents met through videoconferencing VIDEO

Baku, July 2, AZERTAC

On the initiative of the Afghan President, a meeting via videoconferencing has been held among President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Speaking at the meeting, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said:

-Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim. Dear brothers President of Azerbaijan and President of Turkmenistan, good morning! Thank you for agreeing to hold a trilateral meeting. First of all, let me express my deep gratitude for the initiatives put forward by both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan related to the transport links Afghanistan and the entire region need.

Mr. President Aliyev, I want to thank you for the investments made in Georgia, Turkey and all of Azerbaijan. In particular, I want to express my gratitude to the President of Turkmenistan for extending the railway to two land ports in Afghanistan – first the port of Akin and then - Toragundi. In particular, Toragundi allowed us the opportunity to extend a direct line to Azerbaijan. I want to thank you both for the support provided for the Lapis-Lazuli corridor, a transformative program that will be the main topic of our discussion today. We talked with each of you individually and you also had a conversation with each other. Now is the time to put it all into practice.

I would like to congratulate President Aliyev on organizing the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on COVID. You presided and we all participated. This was important and, of course, we are all ready to support the position of the Non-Aligned Movement in connection with COVID in the UN Security Council. I want to express my gratitude to President of Turkmenistan Berdimuhamedov for making very prompt decisions to ensure a continuous and unhindered flow of goods through the territory of Turkmenistan and for the assistance provided to the two main testing laboratories at our two border crossing points. Instead of a long speech, I suggest that we listen to my esteemed brothers. The issues I would like to draw your attention to are related to energy, transit, trade and investment in the context of the Lapis-Lazuli corridor. President Ilham Aliyev, let me first ask you to share your wisdom with us and talk about the programs.

The head of state made a speech at the meeting.

Speech of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Dear President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.

Dear President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Let me cordially greet you and express my satisfaction over participation in today's trilateral meeting. I thank President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani for the initiative to hold the trilateral meeting. This meeting is useful in terms of discussing the current state and further development of our cooperation.

Azerbaijan has friendly and fraternal ties with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Numerous mutual visits at the level of heads of state and our meetings as part of international events have made an important contribution to the development of these ties.

Since 2002, Azerbaijan has been participating in NATO peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan. We have contributed to the establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan by providing military force, multimodal transit, training and financial assistance. The number of Azerbaijani peacekeepers in the Resolute Support Mission was increased by 30 percent in 2018 to reach 120 people.

Thanks to the major investments made in the transport sector, a modern transport and logistical infrastructure has been created in Azerbaijan. In 2018, the Alat International Sea Trade Port with a transshipment capacity of 15 million tons of cargo and 100,000 containers was commissioned. In the future, the port's capabilities can be increased to 25 million tons of cargo and 1 million containers.

Azerbaijan has the largest fleet in the Caspian Sea and it consists of 260 ships. Since 2013, a total of 10 ships have been built at the modern shipyard operating in Azerbaijan, and 140 vessels and platforms have been overhauled. Currently, the construction of two RoPax ferries and three oil tankers is ongoing at the plant. For 2021, there are plans to build additional vessels. These vessels will serve to increase cargo transportation in the Caspian Sea.

At the same time, Azerbaijan attaches great importance to the development of automobile roads. Over the past 16 years, a total of 16,000 kilometers of roads have been built in Azerbaijan. according to the latest report of the Davos World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan is in 27th place in the world for the quality of roads. Six international airports have been built in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is in 12th place in the world in terms of air transport efficiency.

In 2017, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was commissioned. I consider this a historic event. It is no coincidence that this railway is referred to as the Iron Silk Road. This project connects continents. Azerbaijan, as a country located between Asia and Europe, makes a great contribution to the transport and logistical sector in the entire Eurasian region. The volume of goods transported by the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in the first six months of 2020 is 3.7 times higher than in the same period in 2019.

The railway infrastructure within the country is being updated. According to the latest report of the Davos Economic Forum, Azerbaijan ranks 11th in the world in terms of railway efficiency. In general, the Davos Forum report puts Azerbaijan in 34th place in the world for the level of transport infrastructure.

The East-West transport corridor is already fully operational. In 2019, a total of 8.7 million tons of cargo were transported along this corridor. In the first four months of this year, this figure has already reached 3 million tons. Azerbaijan is also an active participant in the North-South transport corridor. All work has been completed on the Azerbaijani segment of the corridor. A total of 2.1 million tons were transported along this corridor last year and 800,000 tons of cargo in the four months of this year. Within the framework of the East-West transport corridor, Azerbaijan has achieved positive results in cooperation with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Nine out of 21 documents signed during my official visit to Turkmenistan in November 2018 relate to the transport sector. In the first half of 2020, more than 1.5 million tons of cargo were handled in the Alat international trade sea port in the direction of Turkmenistan and back. This is 28 percent more compared to the corresponding period of last year. The volume of dry cargo handled has increased by 7.7 times and amounted to more than 370,000 tons. The Turkmen side has been invited to participate in the consortium to be created to manage the fertilizer terminal due to be built in the port.

After connecting the Lapis-Lazuli route with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in 2018, goods from Afghanistan began to be transported from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and further to the west. The first experimental cargo shipped from Afghanistan in December 2018 was delivered to the Baku port within 12 days. In January-May of this year, 55,500 tons of cargo were transported through Azerbaijan in the direction of Afghanistan and back. During this period, Azerbaijan delivered 12,000 tons of cargo belonging to our country and other countries to Afghanistan by transport planes. Azerbaijan has established itself on the world stage as a reliable transit country. Our country has turned into one of the important transport and logistical centers of Eurasia.

Azerbaijan fruitfully cooperates with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan also in a multilateral format. Within the international organizations, our countries always support the territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of each other's borders. Coronavirus, which has turned into the most pressing problem of the present time, has led to tragic consequences in the world. During the pandemic, solidarity and cooperation between countries and within international organizations are important. Despite the negative consequences of the pandemic, Azerbaijan took additional measures to transport transit goods. The East-West transport corridor continuously carries out international cargo transportation.

With the support of 120 states, Azerbaijan was elected the chairing country in the Non-Aligned Movement. In October last year, the Non-Aligned Movement summit was held in Azerbaijan, where presidents of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan voiced valuable proposals for developing cooperation within the framework of the Movement.

On the initiative of Azerbaijan as the country chairing the Non-Aligned Movement, a summit on the fight against coronavirus was organized in the format of a video conference of the Contact Group of the Movement on 4 May. The presidents of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan also attended that meeting. I express my gratitude to the presidents of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan for participating in the Summit.

More than 130 countries of the world recently supported another initiative of mine – the proposal to hold, in the format of a video conference, a special session of the UN General Assembly at the level of heads of state and government dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic. I take this opportunity to thank the presidents of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan for supporting this initiative.

We need to continue efforts to further expand the capabilities of the East-West transport corridor. To optimize freight traffic, it is important to unify tariffs. I propose to hold a working meeting of the transport agencies of our countries to discuss the results of today's meeting and further steps.

The European Union’s interest in the East-West transport corridor is growing. President of the European Council Mr. Donald Tusk, who paid a visit to Azerbaijan in July 2019, visited the Alat International Trade Sea Port and familiarized himself with its capabilities on the ground. Several European countries have already joined this corridor. Other partner states are also showing great interest in the transportation of goods along this corridor.

The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in the format of a video conference was attended by senior officials from the African Union and the European Union. The participation of the European Union in an event of the Non-Aligned Movement for the first time became a historic event. Azerbaijan will continue efforts aimed at developing ties between the two structures.

The countries of Europe and Asia are participants in the East-West transport corridor. I believe that the topic of today's meeting – transport and logistics – could be the first step for tangible cooperation between the European Union and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Along with bilateral cooperation, the concept of trilateral cooperation occupies an important place in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan. I am confident that the results of our trilateral meeting today will be successful and contribute to regional cooperation and economic development. Thank you!

Х Х Х

President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani: President Aliyev, thank you very much again for the activities of Azerbaijani peacekeepers in Afghanistan.

Speaking next was President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The Turkmen President noted that this meeting was a good opportunity for an exchange of views on strategically important issues of cooperation. In particular, it covers partnership in the field of transport and communications. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov emphasized that all three countries were actively involved in international initiatives to combat COVID-19, expressed gratitude to the presidents of Azerbaijan and Afghanistan for comprehensive support of the initiatives of Turkmenistan aimed at combating coronavirus and reducing the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic. The President of Turkmenistan noted that Turkmenistan, as a close neighbor of Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, would make every effort to develop comprehensive and mutually beneficial cooperation.

President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said:

- First of all, we must welcome the proposal put forward by President Aliyev and supported by President Berdimuhamedov. This proposal is related to the creation of a headquarters at the level of heads of transport agencies of the three countries and with the participation of other relevant ministries. We warmly welcome this initiative. The second question is the agenda, which includes five issues noted by the distinguished President of Turkmenistan. We accept that and I will have additional suggestions. The third issue is nine agreements negotiated between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the implementation mechanisms are indicated in sequence. The fourth issue is the adoption of the Lapis-Lazuli corridor for its promotion as a common framework. With your consent, I would like to supplement this with quarterly reporting of the joint group to all three presidents because in this case, when questions arise that can be resolved at the level of the country's leadership, we can quickly resolve them and move on so that the work is not slowed down due to bureaucracy.

With your permission, given the prospects for Afghanistan, I want to emphasize some issues that have been fully agreed upon. The first of these is transit. We want to once again express deep appreciation to President Aliyev and President Berdimuhamedov. Both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan act as regional hubs. The first question is that we want to determine the port so that the ports selected by Afghanistan become customs points around the Caspian Sea. I would like those who conduct trade to focus on imports passing through the territory of Baku and Turkmenbashi. In this respect, we welcome the initiative of Afghan traders or those who trade with the Afghan state to invest in or lease facilities. Secondly, the railway. During the coronavirus period, the railway proved its worth because despite the importance of transportation by trucks, the railway became our savior. We would like tariffs to be predictable and the direction of transportation to allow us the opportunity to expand trade through the railway. We want to carry out the international freight transport that you are developing and continue your initiative. As for customs, we want an agreement to be reached between the leadership of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

The exchange of information through a secure system is very important. We have investments, I will return to this issue a bit later. In eight parts in Afghanistan, we are creating overland ports. Two ports are ready – Akina and Toragundi. We are ready to cooperate with both the private sector of Azerbaijan and the public sector of Turkmenistan. The second question is that we have achieved very important trade and energy development. Our goal is to create an energy corridor from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan. Potentially, it will expand to Pakistan and India, in accordance with the ongoing work on the completion of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Of interest to us is also the fact that the types of energy being acquired are not in competition but complement each other. We receive oil from Azerbaijan and diesel fuel and natural gas from Turkmenistan. President Aliyev, on your instruction SOCAR has signed an agreement with us so that it is possible to forecast the flow from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan, as you instructed.

Two fraternal countries – Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan – are our priority. I would like to make tangible progress on this issue. President Ilham Aliyev, TAPI is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India energy supply route and TAP is the route from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and from Afghanistan to Pakistan. A Turkish company made a financial commitment of $1.3 billion. However, as my dear brother President Berdimuhamedov suggested, we want to have fiber optic corridors. Azerbaijan’s connection with these fiber optic corridors will change the face of the relationship between South Asia, including China, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe. We are cooperating, so it is very important to align this. If we reconcile our energy demand with your proposal related to energy, we believe that we will create a projected volume of business. And this will allow us the opportunity to solve the issues of tariffs and efficiency not only from the point of view of volumes, but also very important proportions for us.

Speaking about the economic potential of his country, President of Afghanistan pointed to broad possibilities for cooperation in this area. Inviting private companies from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to create joint ventures with Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani noted that there was extensive production of marble in his country. Touching upon issues of cooperation in the field of agriculture, he dwelled on the potential of Afghanistan in this area, noted the possibility of creating joint processing ventures and spoke about the work being done to develop agriculture in his country.

Touching upon the transport issues, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said:

- President Aliyev, as you noted, the European Union shows great interest in the topic of transport links. This is very important and they will become the key participants. I would like to inform you about the transport sector. In its railway system, Afghanistan adopted the width of Russian railways as a standard. Afghanistan has the world's largest unused iron ore deposit, and we have other iron ore deposits in the province of Herat.

For a true integration of our region, we need to lay 4,000-6,000 kilometers of railway tracks. This important issue can also be included in the agenda of our cooperation in the field of construction. The issue of quality and cost is important. I suggest working with private companies and other entities.

The President of Afghanistan touched upon issues of cooperation in the field of construction of power lines and expressed the intention of Afghanistan to cooperate with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in the areas of freight transportation and joint investment.

Touching upon the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said:

- Regarding the topic of COVID, thank you again for the opportunities created and for the support provided. I am grateful to Azerbaijan for the assistance provided to the Afghan people. We greatly appreciate this. We thank Turkmenistan in this regard. You have provided very valuable assistance to us, and we emphasize this at all international meetings and in all organizations. Trade is carried out in a consistent manner. It has become a life support route. It is very important to continue it. I hope that the restrictions are gradually lifted. In the next two weeks, we will be able to determine whether the COVID infection is decreasing, continues steadily or is rising. In the next two weeks we will see this. Research continues using the John Hopkins methodology.

The last thing I would like to say is associated with peace. You have mentioned this as well. We are seriously dealing with building peace. Our Foreign Minister Mr. Atmar plans to hold a global meeting on regional approaches with the participation of 18 states – distant countries and close neighbors. We will provide information on the current situation and ask you for support. I am very grateful to you for taking part in helping Afghanistan and providing both moral and material support. Our future is interconnected. I believe that the mechanism of the trilateral meeting will open up opportunities for us after resolving these issues. At the next stage, the same opportunities will be explored with Turkey and Georgia, because the corridor has truly gigantic potential. Once again, I want to express my gratitude to you that, despite the busy schedule, you accepted the invitation to join this meeting. With your consent, a mechanism will be created to continue these discussions. If there are additional comments, please. President Aliyev, you have the floor.

President Ilham Aliyev said:

- Thank you, Mr. President. Let me once again express my gratitude for this initiative. This is a very important and timely event. Given your proposal, I would like to propose the creation of a joint governmental working group because everything we discussed today is not only related to the transport sector. We held discussions related to investments, trade and telecommunications. All of these areas are important. I believe that we can instruct relevant members of the government to set up a working group on each side that would cover all the issues we have discussed – our new ideas related to energy security, issues of oil, oil products and gas supply, unification of tariffs, customs rules, investment opportunities. So we are ready. Issues related to the fiber optic cable line between Turkmenbashi and Siyazan – this can later be expanded to Europe and through Afghanistan to your neighbors. I believe that we can consider and approve the proposals, give all the necessary instructions and lead this process forward.

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani: Great! Thank you!

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