United Kingdom doesn’t view Nagorno Karabakh conflict as resolved – Ambassador Gallagher’s interview to ARMENPRESS
YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 7, ARMENPRESS. The United Kingdom doesn’t view the Nagorno Karabakh conflict as resolved and wants to see a comprehensive peace settlement reached as soon as possible, on the basis of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ Basic Principles, the UK Ambassador to Armenia H.E. John Gallagher said in an interview with ARMENPRESS conducted on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and the United Kingdom.
Speaking about the history of the Armenian-British relations, the work that was done in the past three decades and the current dynamics, Ambassador Gallagher noted the growing connections in bilateral trade and the business sector, in cultural and people-to-people links, and in supporting green development and ambitious approaches to reduce climate change. He also mentioned that the UK government is currently engaging with the Armenian government to finalise a UK-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement
Aram Sargsyan: Ambassador Gallagher, Armenia and the United Kingdom have 30 years of diplomatic ties. But does this short period entirely reflect the depth and whole picture of the history of the relations between our nations? How would you characterize the present-day level of relations?
Ambassador Gallagher: Thank you for the question. I agree that UK-Armenia relations go back much further than the establishment of diplomatic relations 30 years ago. I’m proud that during that period the UK was one of the first countries to recognise Armenia’s independence (at the end of 1991), and was also one of the most prominent supporters of the Armenian SSR’s response to the devastating 1988 earthquake – particularly when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited in 1990 and officially opened the Lord Byron school in Gyumri. We’ve had many ministerial visits since then, most recently when the former Minister for Europe & Americas Wendy Morton MP visited Yerevan and Vanadzor in February last year. I hope there will be similar senior visits in the future.
But, of course, connections and shared histories between our countries go far beyond government-to-government channels. I continue to be amazed at the number of prominent Armenians I meet who studied at UK universities. There are growing connections in bilateral trade and the business sector, in cultural and people-to-people links, and in supporting green development and ambitious approaches to reduce climate change. So I think there will be many more opportunities for the UK and Armenia to work together over the coming years to forge even closer links between our peoples and cultures – for the next 30 years and beyond.
Aram Sargsyan - Mr. Ambassador, could you please present the United Kingdom’s interests in the relations with Armenia and in this region generally, and what are the priorities of the Armenian-British ties?
Ambassador Gallagher - The UK-Armenia relationship encompasses engagement across a wide range of areas, including support to governance and economic reforms, bilateral trade, in building stronger connections between people through cultural and educational links, and in supporting green development and ambitious commitments to reduce climate change.
I’m pleased that we’ve been able to support the Government of Armenia’s reform efforts though sharing UK experience and expertise. I believe this has made a positive contribution to the impressive progress Armenia has made on governance and democratisation in recent years.
I’m also fully aware that the last 18 months has been an incredibly difficult time for Armenia due to Covid and the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The UK continues to support the work of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs towards a sustainable peaceful settlement. We have also provided funding for UNDP/UNICEF programmes to strengthen stability and resilience in border communities through vocational training and psychosocial support.
Overall, I would assess that the UK is making a positive contribution to Armenia’s economic and democratic development. We will continue to work closely alongside government, parliament and the business sector to identify areas in which the UK’s experience can make a positive difference.
Aram Sargsyan - How would you comment on opinions voiced by some experts who argue that Armenia and the UK could do much better to realize the big potential, first of all to have a broader legal base by signing more agreements and other documents (instead of the current 9 or 10 documents we have now) in strategic spheres and also be more active in developing bilateral relations? Or perhaps such works are already underway?
Ambassador Gallagher - This is something we are currently working on, and which I see as an important priority for me and my embassy in Armenia. The UK government is currently engaging with the Armenian government to finalise a UK-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, encompassing the full breadth of bilateral issues. We hope to be able to make further announcements on this soon.
Aram Sargsyan - According to the Department for International Trade of the British Government, the trade in goods and services (exports and imports) between the UK and Armenia was £64 million ($87 million) in Q2 2020 to Q2 2021. How can Armenia and the UK expand their bilateral trade? Are there any expert studies or projections on how the two countries could boost trade?
Ambassador Gallagher - There is certainly scope to further expand bilateral trade between the UK and Armenia. This is something we are actively working towards. Armenia is well known for its burgeoning IT sector, and we have seen positive signals in recent months of interest by companies in expanding their operations in both directions.
Another important growth area is renewable energy. The UK is committed to supporting clean energy, and is currently supporting a collaboration with EBRD and the Business Support Office to identify opportunities to integrate green growth principles into business activities in Armenia. This will work towards multiple objectives, including preserving the environment, unlocking prospects for greener growth and making Armenian businesses more competitive internationally. UK companies have also engaged with Armenian authorities on grid modernisation and clean energy initiatives with Yerevan municipality.
So I think there are lots of opportunities for expanding bilateral trade – on these specific sectors, and more widely.
Aram Sargsyan - Are there any events planned on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations? Are high-level visits expected in the near future?
Ambassador Gallagher - We plan on a range of activities throughout 2022 to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Obviously, the pandemic situation makes the organisation of any large-scale events difficult at the current moment. However, we hope to be in a position to go ahead with the traditional Queen’s Birthday Party event in the summer, which will be an important opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. I am also looking forward very much to the visit of the Scotland football team in June, which should be a really fun occasion. As for high level visits, I certainly hope there will be opportunities for senior visitors to come this year.
Aram Sargsyan - Regarding the regional developments around Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh in the post-war period: how do you see the comprehensive and long-term settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict? In other words, what is the UK’s official stance on this? In this context, how would you comment on the statements of President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev who claims that there “is no Nagorno Karabakh conflict anymore because they have resolved the conflict”. Do you agree with the mentioned point that there is no Nagorno Karabakh conflict anymore after the 44-day war in 2020?
Ambassador Gallagher - The UK position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not changed. We do not view the conflict as resolved. The UK wants to see a comprehensive peace settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh reached as soon as possible, on the basis of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ Basic Principles. We fully support the efforts of the American, French and Russian Co-Chairs and encourage the sides to engage constructively in the negotiation process.
We strongly encourage further progress on humanitarian issues such as the return of all prisoners of war and detainees, demining, and investigations into all allegations of human rights violations. It is vital for the region’s future stability and prosperity that ongoing issues are resolved through a negotiated, peaceful process.
Aram Sargsyan - How do you assess the negotiation process by the Russian mediation towards unblocking the transport and economic connections, delimitation and demarcation of state borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Ambassador Gallagher - We do not have any direct oversight of the trilateral working group processes, but we would view progress on delimitation, demarcation and restoring transport and economic connections as a positive step. The UK fully supports the development of peaceful relations in the region.
Aram Sargsyan - What is your comment on the new round of Armenian-Turkish dialogue towards normalization, the first meeting of which was held in Moscow on 14 January 2022. What kind of role could the UK play in this process as an important actor in international relations?
Ambassador Gallagher - Similar to the previous question, the UK is not part of the negotiations process, but we would view positively any progress towards Armenia-Turkey normalisation. From what has been reported, both sides already appear to be taking positive steps towards re-engagement. I believe that actions that enable more contact and cooperation between the people of both countries are a good thing and that open borders offer greater opportunities for both countries to realise their potential.
Interview by Aram Sargsyan