Statement of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev on the official reception given by the America - Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce - Washington, National Construction Museum, July 30, 1997

Distinguished Secretary, Congressmen, Ambassadors!

Esteemed Americans, Azerbaijanis!

Ladies and gentlemen!

I extend my heartfelt greetings and my deep respect to all of you!

I have arrived in the United States at the official invitation of U.S. President Bill Clinton. I must say with deep feeling of satisfaction that since I stepped on the American soil in New York City, this visit has been very successful. The Americans have created very friendly and favorable conditions for me and the delegation that accompanies me.

All our meetings and talks have proceeded in the atmosphere of friendship, mutual understanding. Today we made even more progress than I expected. I would like to thank President Bill Clinton, those officials who have held talks with us and all of you who have gathered here in this magnificent palace for your hospitality, sincerity and friendliness.

As an independent state, Azerbaijan is building beneficial bilateral relations with many countries, and we have already achieved a great deal in this field. The independent state is a historic event and achievement for our people. We are proud of and rejoice in this accomplishment. We are happy and proud that we achieved our national freedom, state independence that we wished for years and centuries.

Today, in this majestic palace of historic architecture, in the capital of the United States, when I saw the Azerbaijani State Flag and watched it enter the hall along with the U.S. flag, when I heard the Azerbaijani State Hymn along with the U.S. National Hymn, I was so elated, I could not speak. One can only imagine how dear are the freedom and independence for every Azeri, every citizen of Azerbaijan. Today we can witness the wonderful results of this achievement. The fact that one can witness the consequences of our freedom in the capital of the United States, the most powerful state in the world, is cause for special pride and honor.

We have come to your country with good intentions, for the purpose of developing, extending, raising higher level American Azerbaijan relations. I hope and feel confident that the progress we have made during our negotiations so far will continue, that our meetings will fulfill our wishes and plans day-by-day and at last I am confident that President Bill Clinton and I will meet and sign important contracts that will expand the American-Azerbaijani cooperation and friendship links, and raise them to a higher level. This is our desire and the top priority of our foreign policy. I wish that we would achieve all these results.

For the past few years, our bilateral relations were evolving very positively. I consider that our economic relations have attained good results. We are building law-based, democratic and secular state in Azerbaijan. We are determined to establish a market economy in Azerbaijan. We are doing all in our power to open Azerbaijani markets to the foreign investments. I can confidently state that we have made significant strides in this direction. The participation of many U.S. firms, especially energy companies in Azerbaijani economy, their close cooperation with their Azeri counterparts and their substantial investments in Azeri industries are practical evidence of our productive economic relations.

This is just the beginning of our work. The contracts that we have already signed and the ones pending will ensure the close US-Azerbaijani cooperation for many decades to come. I can say that the 21st century will demonstrate the enormous progress in the US-Azerbaijani relations, especially in developing the energy resources in the Azeri sector of the Caspian Sea. We are laying the foundation of that grand future.

I am proud that independent Azerbaijan is making such benevolent steps for both its own and the American interests. You can be assured that we will be consistent in our policies, and no one, no power, will be able to stop us or alter our direction. We are erecting a great monument for future generations. It will be the monument of the American-Azerbaijan friendship.

There are a number of difficult problems before young and independent Azerbaijani state. We are in the process of solving these problems. We realize now, and we understood while gaining our independence, that the road of freedom would be very difficult. I was very glad when Ambassador Armitage reminded me of a few words that I said during the years of the former Soviet Union in 1991. Those were truly my words. Then I declared that the Soviet Union was disintegrating, and it had to collapse, that the Communist Party had to step down and leave the world stage altogether. I said at that time that Azerbaijan had to become an independent state and win its freedom. I maintained then that we needed to gain our independence at all costs. This path would be a very difficult one, but it is the only correct way. If we did not choose this path, history would not forgive us for that blunder. Future generations would opt for this strategy at any rate; however, it might be too late. We would have lost a great deal.

I uttered these words seven years ago. I am proud that my words have come true, Azerbaijan is an independent state. Nevertheless, I stated it then, and I am repeating today that the road of independence is an arduous one. We are going along this hard path. If we are not going in the right direction, we will not reach the freeway. But I am sure that we will reach the freeway of independence, Azerbaijan will live as an independent country, and Azerbaijani nationhood will be eternal and irreversible. No one will be able to impair our national freedom in any way.

We manage to overcome most of these difficulties ourselves. But there are such problems that we need assistance in solving them. The Armenian-Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh (Mountainous Garabagh) conflict is the largest of all obstacles. We have never started such a conflict. I just want to reiterate this again for the sake of history. However, let bygones be bygones. This conflict began nine years ago. We have suffered great losses, our people gave victims, bloods shed and 20% of the Azerbaijani lands have been occupied by the Armenian armed forces. One million of our citizens have been ousted and deported from the occupied lands. These refugees now live under distressing conditions in tent cities throughout Azerbaijan.

We have bore with this, and we are still putting up with it. Despite all these losses and blows we have suffered, we still want peace. We intend to solve the issue peacefully. That`s why we signed a cease-fire agreement three years ago. We have maintained the cease-fire regime for three years. I declare here again that we will maintain the cease-fire until a comprehensive peace accord is reached. We will never allow the resumption of hostilities. We will never let the war resume on our part since we sincerely desire to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

However, we need help in resolving the issue. You know its history. The Minsk Group has done a lot of work in past years, but it has failed to achieve its objective. The Lisbon Summit of the OSCE held last year determined three principles that would guide the peaceful settlement of the problem. These were: guaranteeing the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Republics, granting a high degree of autonomy to Nagorno Karabakh (Mountainous Garabagh) within Azerbaijan, and guaranteeing the security of the entire population of Nagorno Karabakh (Mountainous Garabagh).

We have accepted these principles. Although this compromise damages our state sovereignty, we have still adopted these three principles. We would like Armenian to accept them as well. So far, Armenia refuses to accept them. The Minsk Group, its co-chairs the U.S., Russia and France, must strive to settle the conflict based on these principles. I am certain that if three great powers and presidents of these three powerful countries - President Bill Clinton, President Boris Yeltsin and President Jacques Chirac - have taken on this responsibility and given a joint statement on this issue in Denver on June 20th, then they will make sure that the problem is resolved. I believe in that; the Azerbaijani people believe in it and lay great hopes on them.

When the Azeri citizen saw me off to Washington, they all lived with one burning question: what news would President Heydar Aliyev bring back from Washington? What they expect is that the United States and U.S. President Bill Clinton will take serious measures to solve the problem. The United States and its president have all the resources to take the necessary steps. I would very much like to see these wishes of the Azerbaijani people come true. I do not say that it must be done today. However, the presidents promised that this issue would be resolved in 1997. I hope that when I return to Baku, I could declare that I was told in Washington that this conflict would be settled this year, and Azerbaijan would gain true peace.

Esteemed Americans, I can assure you that everyone in Azerbaijan desires peace. We want peace in Azerbaijan, the Caucasus and entire region. We support a long-lasting and secure peace with Armenia. This is the most important and complex objective we are facing today. I would like to express my hope that our friendship and cooperation with the United States would help us in the settlement of this conflict. We live with these hopes.

In the meetings held these days, we also brought up the issue of lifting the Section 907 passed by the U.S. Senate in 1992. We have also found out during our stay here that the idea of removing this amendment has already been formed in America. I am content that today Secretary of Energy Mr. Pena expressed that opinion from this rostrum. I am hopeful that this issue will be taken care of soon.

Our talks in the Congress and Senate gave us some hopes. Mr. Bill Clinton has repeatedly stated that he supported repealing this article. Mrs. Albright raised the issue of revoking this section in her inaugural speech at the Senate. I am satisfied that I met with a number of past and current prominent political figures during my visit. I highly value these meetings. All these politicians also support the elimination of this article. That`s why I hope that when we return to Azerbaijan, we will bring good news to the Azeri people.

With these hopes, I am eagerly anticipating my meeting with Bill Clinton. I am hopeful that this meeting will be very fruitful and productive.

We are expanding our cooperation with U.S. oil firms, and the drafts of several contracts have been drawn up. If we reach agreement on these documents, then they will be signed here in Washington. This will be very symbolic since these contracts will be signed in Washington, the U.S. capital, and they will be implemented in Azerbaijan, in the Caspian Sea.

I would to bring another point to your attention that Azerbaijan began the oil production in the Caspian Sea fifty years ago. The Azerbaijanis are the pioneers in offshore oil production. Fifty years later in the end of the twentieth century, Azerbaijan initiated a new stage in the Caspian Sea production. Azerbaijan has proposed to explore the deep-water oil deposits in the Caspian jointly with the large world energy companies, including the firms from the United States of America. Today, the international community has recognized the Caspian Sea as one holding the largest deposits of energy resources, and the world attention is riveted to this place. The Azerbaijani people and Republic have made major contributions to this recognition. I am optimistic that our decisions will further the prosperity of all the peoples including the Americans.

These days, we are thumbing through the American history once again. The U.S.A. has gone a long way historically. The United States has immensely contributed to the humanity in protecting and strengthening the democracy and human rights in the world, and it is known as a great example of the world democracy. This experience of the United States is a great model for many countries and peoples that have chosen the path of democracy and progress. It is a vital example for us, as well. We are benefiting from this experience and will continue to do so in future. American democracy, political pluralism and freedom, are an important example and source of experience for us. I highly appreciate the historic achievements of the American people and express my deference to them.

Today, everyone is gathered here in this splendid hall with the desire to promote and strengthen the American-Azerbaijani relations. The U.S.-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce that has organized this banquet has already contributed a great deal to these relations. The Chamber has been working hard and considerably promoted the U.S.-Azerbaijani economic cooperation. I support and approve of the work of the U.S.-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce and would like to thank the leadership and executive team of the Chamber for their hard work. I would like to express my confidence that all these joint efforts will continue and drive our affairs even further.

Here, in this magnificent palace in Washington, I would like to convey my sincere respect and admiration to the American people and government. I express my respect to the historic achievements of the American people.

I would like to ask you to raise your glasses to salute the United States of America, the American people, American-Azerbaijani friendship and President Mr. Bill Clinton of the United States. Thank you. 

The document was taken from the edition of \"Together towards the New Century\"