Digest February 23 2018

U.S. Likes Southern Gas Corridor, Ratings Agencies Like Azerbaijan’s Economy
The February 2018 edition of the Embassy’s digest features news about U.S. support for Azerbaijan’s Southern Gas Corridor, which will improve Europe’s energy security. Additionally, Azerbaijan’s economy gets the thumbs-up from two global ratings giants, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister laments Armenia’s resistance to person-to-person peace dialogues in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Holy See praises Azerbaijan’s history of tolerance.
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U.S. Diplomats Back Southern Gas Corridor, Laud Close Ties with Azerbaijan
The U.S. is backing Europe’s efforts to diversify its energy supply, a high-ranking U.S. State Department official said at the Southern Gas Corridor’s Fourth Ministerial meeting in Baku, which was opened by Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, pictured above. “We are really impressed to hear the reports today on the progress of the Southern Gas Corridor,” said Sue Saarnio, Acting Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs for the State Department.
Feb. 6, 2018
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Bridget Brink called on President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, telling him that the U.S. greatly appreciates Azerbaijan’s cooperation on security issues and the country’s ongoing contribution to peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. Brink also reiterated U.S. support for the Southern Gas Corridor.
Feb. 2, 2018
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert F. Cekuta kicked off a year-long celebration of the State Department’s FLEX student exchange program at the U.S. Embassy in Baku. Since its launch in 1993, nearly 1,000 Azerbaijani youth have taken advantage of the program, which enables them to spend a year at a U.S. high school. Many are now leaders in their fields back home in Azerbaijan.
Ratings Agencies Affirm Azerbaijan’s Economic Rise 
Feb. 4, 2018
International ratings agency Fitch has upgraded Azerbaijan from “negative” to “stable” while reaffirming the country’s “BB+” credit rating. Fitch said macroeconomic stability has returned to Azerbaijan, inflation is easing and the country has flipped to a surplus current account balance.
Jan. 27, 2018
Standard & Poor’s global ratings agency forecasts that Azerbaijan will end 2018 with a budget surplus for the first time since 2014. The agency predicted yearly surpluses through 2021. Like Fitch, S&P upgraded the country’s outlook from “negative” to “stable” and reaffirmed its “BB+/B” credit rating.
Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told a visiting EU delegation in Baku that it is vital to establish a dialogue between the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, but that Armenia has always blocked such initiatives.
Feb. 13, 2018
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will allocate $3.6 million in funds for Azerbaijan’s economic development in 2019, up from $600,000 this year, which was targeted only for military training. The upgraded spending will fund a number of projects.
Feb. 15, 2018
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Taxes will explore the application of blockchain technology, Tax Minister Mikayil Jabbarov said, adding that the distributed ledger technology would help tax authorities improve efficiency for taxpayers. “Each taxpayer must have access to any service at any time and from any place,” Jabbarov said. “The new technologies should ensure the targeting of public services…and provide an opportunity to achieve transparency.”
Feb. 2, 2018
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, said that Azerbaijan has “historically been a land of tolerance” during a meeting with the Chairman of the Caucasus Muslims Office, Sheikhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade, in Baku. Gallagher said Azerbaijan’s Catholic population is very important to Pope Francis.
Azerbaijan presented its bid to host the World Expo 2025 to delegates from more than 120 countries at the United Nations. “By hosting World Expo 2025, Baku would offer the world an opportunity to explore the future of society and humanity, mobilize all nations to realize UN Development Goals and effectively address some of the biggest challenges facing our planet today,” said Ambassador Elchin Amirbayov, who came from Baku to attend the presentation.
Feb. 19. 2019
Armenia’s hypocritical and non-constructive position remains a major obstacle to progress in peace negotiations between the two countries, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev told a delegation led by the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus.
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