France wanted Karabakh — internationally recognised as a territory of Azerbaijan — to remain a "frozen" conflict but Baku "foiled their plans," says President Ilham Aliyev.
Azerbaijan has demanded an apology from France over "slander" during the 2020 Karabakh war with Armenia.
"During the conflict, France openly accused us, slandered us. I demanded an apology from them. They slandered us without even any evidence," the country's President Ilham Aliyev said in an interview with local newspapers on Tuesday.
Underlining that while there could be several reasons for France's anti-Azerbaijan stance, Aliyev said that France wanted Karabakh — internationally recognised as a territory of the South Caucasus Turkic nation — to remain at the centre of an unresolved and "frozen" conflict.
"We haven't come to peace with this. I believe this is the essential reason behind their anti-Azerbaijani position. Because, we foiled their plans and they couldn't save Armenia, which they placed under their own patronage," Aliyev said, adding that "Armenian influence" on the French government was another reason for their policy against Baku.
He said Paris had maintained a balanced stance until the start of the 44-day war and that it wanted to remain a mediator despite its policy shift.
"We can live without France, and France can live without us. We have lived as such ... But, if there are attempts to normalise this situation, of course, we will not be deaf to it," he added.
Relations between the two former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Karabakh, a territory internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
In the fall of 2020, Azerbaijan liberated several cities, villages and settlements from Armenian occupation. The Russian and Turkish-brokered peace agreement is celebrated as a triumph in Azerbaijan.
Baku has rebuffed past "provocations" by France, including parliamentary resolutions calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan and its withdrawal from territory liberated from Armenian occupation.
READ MORE: Azerbaijan summons French ambassador to protest ‘baseless accusations’
Energy resources, transport projects
Aliyev also said that the EU's interest in his country's energy resources had increased since Russia's war on Ukraine began last year as energy security concerns surged in the bloc.
The war has also enhanced transport projects pursued by Baku, namely the international Middle and North-South corridors, he said.
"All of the main activities related to the Middle Corridor and the North-South transport corridor in the territory of Azerbaijan have been completed," said the Azerbaijani president, adding that up to 30 million tonnes of cargo could be transported through Azerbaijan via the North-South transport corridor alone.
"Currently, all of Azerbaijan's transit opportunities make up a small percentage of that. Therefore, the North-South transport corridor is a project that can compete with the Middle Corridor," Aliyev said.
The Middle Corridor, which begins in Türkiye and passes through the Caucasus region via Georgia and Azerbaijan, crosses the Caspian Sea, traverses Central Asia and reaches China, while the North–South Transport Corridor runs between India on one end and Europe and Central Asia on the other. It also passes through Azerbaijan.
Aliyev added that serious efforts were under way to expand the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye, noting that Baku had earmarked more than $100 million for the project.
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