Interview with H.E. Mr. Dan IANCU
the Ambassador of Romania in Azerbaijan
Vasile SIMILEANU: Your Excellency, I had the chance to see and learn a good deal about Azerbaijan. I recently took part in an international event in Baku and had an interesting discussion with you on the developments in the wider Caucasus region. The current issue of GeoPolitica is an outcome of the meetings I had with diplomats posted in the region, such as yourself. How useful do you think these initiatives of the civil society are?
Dan IANCU: Let me first welcome your initiative to dedicate the whole issue to this very dynamic and interesting region, so close to Romania – we are separated just by the Black Sea! – yet still not known enough by the wider public. We need to build more links, a wider network across the Black and Caspian Seas, so that this region fully rediscovers its long traditions of cooperation and exchanges. As we move towards an ever interconnected world, we need to be aware that we face the same challenges and that beyond these there are numerous points of common interest. And I think that the civil society is well placed to highlight these and to put forward suggestions for a regional approach in finding the right answers.
V.S.: Ambassador, Romania is a regional player – in geopolitical, geostrategic and economic terms. In this context, what can you tell us about the relationship between Romania and Azerbaijan, and about the joint regional projects?
Dan IANCU: I’ll start by pointing to a fact that I came across in every meeting I had since arriving in Baku: there is a deep and genuine friendship between Romania and Azerbaijan. This is evident not only at the institutional level (in the political dialogue or throughout various forms of cooperation and exchanges), but also at a personal level. You can feel this the moment you interact, in everyday life, with any Azerbaijani interlocutor. I am also proud to recall that Romania was the second country to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. We will soon celebrate the 25th anniversary since the establishment of the bilateral diplomatic relations. Over these past 25 years the ties between our two nations have grown ever stronger in all areas – political, economic, cultural and humanitarian. The bilateral Strategic Partnership signed in 2009 – the first such arrangement concluded by Azerbaijan with an EU Member State – gave full recognition, but also new momentum, to an already very dynamic cooperation. We have also laid solid grounds for the economic exchanges: during the past four years there has been a steady increase of the bilateral trade turnover, which reached almost 170 million USD in 2016 (Azerbaijani statistics). People-to-people contacts are also expanding. Concluding, I’ll say this: we have an excellent starting point, but we also have a lot of work ahead in order to make the best out of the actual potential of our two countries.
V.S.: Excellency, The Romanian-Azerbaijani relations are on a positive trend. We are talking about common projects in various fields, but what about their operationalization? Are we making progress or are we bogged down due to insufficient mutual knowledge? How do you see the development of the regional economic initiatives, and of the energy projects relevant for Romania?
Dan IANCU: First of all, I think that the upward trend in the bilateral trade should be seen as a testimony of the existing potential to which I was referring earlier. Our economies are complementary; we need to be more active, on both sides, in seeking new opportunities in other fields of the economy, beyond the traditional ones. In this respect, I think that the 11 ”strategic road maps for the national economy and main economic sectors” signed into law in December 2016 by the President of Azerbaijan can provide new impetus and better guidance for future bilateral projects. The drive for the diversification of the Azerbaijani economy beyond the oil and gas sector (which is the strategic concept at the core of the roadmaps) should generate additional opportunities for foreign companies, Romanian ones included, willing to trade or invest in Azerbaijan.
Second, energy is already a key part of our cooperation. We recognize and attach great importance to the role of Azerbaijan in providing answers to Europe’s energy needs. Romania sees the Southern Gas Corridor, developing as we speak with strong support and involvement of Azerbaijan, as the most consistent option to increase European energy security through the diversification of both gas sources and transport routes. Then, Romania and Azerbaijan are strong supporters of the AGRI LNG interconnector which responds exactly to the two key points just mentioned – energy security and diversification. The AGRI project will become even more relevant if we think of the investments underway within the EU, aimed at boosting the connectivity and strengthening the European energy market. One example in this respect is the BRUA interconnector (Bulgaria – Romania – Hungary – Austria).
I would also add to that the presence of the Azerbaijan national oil and gas company, SOCAR, in Romania, and the cooperation developed by SOCAR with relevant Romanian energy operators. Finally, I mention transports and connectivity. Azerbaijan stands at the crossroads between East and West, North and South, and has been very active in putting forward ideas and projects aiming at turning these into reality. Plans for transport corridors, transport hubs and improving regional connectivity are underway. As far as we are concerned, the Black Sea – Caspian Sea Freight Transport Corridor has always been a priority for Romania in our dialogue with the countries in South Caucasus and Central Asia. This fits perfectly with the attention that Azerbaijan is paying to developing the East – West corridor, across the Caspian and running to the Black Sea shores. On the opposing shore, Constanţa is the best landing point, with competitive services, extensive capacities and excellent access to the Central European markets, through the Danube. I am pleased to inform that the Ports of Constanţa and Baku are in contact on these matters.
V.S.: Ambassador, Could you also elaborate on the cultural, religious and academic exchanges with Azerbaijan?
Dan IANCU: A thing that I discovered here, in Azerbaijan, is that Romanians and Azerbaijanis are closer in the cultural sense than one might think, and I’ll pick just three examples: the traditional music (called mugham in Azerbaijan), the tradition of carpet weaving and the national cuisine. These are all important stepping stones in our efforts to put together cultural events appealing to the local public. On this note, I can confirm that the Embassy of Romania in Azerbaijan has been active in promoting our national cultural values on a regular basis – on such occasions as the Romanian National Day, or through complex events such as the Francophone Days or European Days in Baku.
This year, on the 1st of March, we have put together a cultural event around the Mărţişor, at the Azerbaijan Languages University, which enjoyed huge interest among the students. In April we have opened a photo exhibition showcasing some of the most renowned works of Constantin Brâncuşi.
On the academic side, there is growing interest in Azerbaijan for the opportunities to study in Romania. The Azerbaijani students can benefit of scholarships provided by the Ministry of Education in Romania, through an annual programme. There are also more and more universities exchanging students or teachers through the Erasmus+ programme funded by the EU. And we are working hard, together with our Azerbaijani partners, to further expand the links in the education field.
Azerbaijan devotes considerable efforts to building a multicultural, harmonious society, where tolerance and understanding are seen by each citizen – irrespective of the ethnic, religious or cultural background – as an integral feature of everyday life. The visit paid by the Holy Father Pope Francis to Baku, in October 2016, is a testimony to the great strides made by Azerbaijan in this respect. This attachment to the values of diversity and tolerance, which is shared by both Romania and Azerbaijan, provides us with a solid ground for exploring further avenues for dialogue, including at the level of the state institutions responsible for religious affairs.
V.S.: Your Excellency, Azerbaijan has proven it is a credible partner in its foreign relations, including those with EU and NATO. In which areas could Romania play a bigger role in this respect?
Dan IANCU: I think that Romania has always been and remains extremely active in supporting the development of Azerbaijan’s relations with both EU and NATO. As you know, negotiations on a new legal framework between the EU and Azerbaijan would start soon. There was a great deal of work before that within the EU, to agree on the mandate that sets in broad terms the EU’s negotiating position, and Romania has always advocated for setting targets as ambitious as possible. We hope that the two negotiating teams would find ways to shape the Agreement into a very ambitious platform for the future cooperation between Azerbaijan and EU.
As regards NATO, you might know that the Embassy of Romania in Azerbaijan has been until quite recently (the end of 2016) NATO Contact Point Embassy in Azerbaijan. We held this mandate for four consecutive two-year terms, from 2009. The fact itself was quite extraordinary – it was the only case of such a long mandate in the whole CPE network. This in itself was a proof of the level of trust and cooperation between Romania and Azerbaijan, but is also an indicator of the worth and consistency of our effort as an Allied member Embassy. Over these 8 years we have directly contributed to the intensification of the political dialogue and cooperation between NATO and Azerbaijan. And we will continue to do so in the future.
V.S.: Ambassador, As it is customary, I would like to ask you at the end of our discussion to convey a message to our readers and to all those interested in geopolitics, diplomacy and international affairs.
Dan IANCU: First – I wish to GeoPolitica a long and interesting life, many more issues and in particular a keen and attentive eye to the developments in the Black Sea and the Caucasus region. To all the readers, my very warm regards and appreciation for the interest they are taking towards these topics which feature at the forefront of Romania’s foreign policy. I am confident that this growing interest would also lead to a better and finer understanding of the developments taking place in the region – from those related to energy or connectivity, to those fostering more cooperation, security and stability, in the interest of all. Thank you.
Interview by Vasile SIMILEANU