Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 2)
This podcast is the second in a series featuring business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. It features a conversation between the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s Regional Director for International Trade and Diplomacy, Franz Kolb, and His Excellency Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States. Mr. Kolb and Ambassador Suleymanov discuss Utah’s relationship with Azerbaijan and what His Excellency enjoys about Utah.
Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Franz Kolb (0:22): This is Franz Kolb with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the podcast, “Business Elevated.” I’m here today with His Excellency Elin Suleymanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
Elin Suleymanov (0:41): Thank you, Mr. Kolb, it’s good to be in Utah.
Franz Kolb (0:42): I’m so delighted to have you here again. You have been a great friend of Utah over the years and I remember you have been coming back for about 15 years now.
Elin Suleymanov (0:52): Yes indeed, and first of all thank you once again, Mr. Kolb, for the welcome. I want to extend my gratitude to the Office of the Governor, to Governor Herbert himself and to all our friends here. To the Senate, Senator Davis, and to our good friends in the House, Representative Hutchings for welcoming me today. That was very kind of them. I truly enjoy coming back to Utah. I can only recommend to everybody I know, and I do recommend actually to everybody I know, to come here and whoever listens, they should come. It’s a beautiful state and you know every time you come here you can’t help but be amazed by how beautiful nature is and how welcoming the people are. But in addition to that, I can judge now from the years I’ve been coming here how much the economic development has improved, the diversity of the city improved, the Salt Lake City outlook in general and how rich the culture has become, including the cuisine. We talked about this. Of course, I am risking here to offend some of our good friends in different states by any comparison but I do believe that your snow is the best and this is indeed a unique place. I was speaking today at the University of Utah, which is a very interesting institution, I spoke before at Utah Valley University as well, this is a very unique University. It exists in a beautiful setting but it also is home to a very diverse group of students. I spoke today about Azerbaijan, about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, about the tragedy of Khojaly which happened 27 years ago, the worst massacre of the world, and I was able to speak today among a list of students who are from Armenia. I think we did have a common language and I think the atmosphere of openness and inclusiveness of Utah helps for this kind of a conversation when we can think about the future rather than the past.
Franz Kolb (2:46): Your Excellency, Azerbaijan has been an important strategic partner of the United States. I remember in 1995 the United States and Azerbaijan signed a bilateral bill granting most favorite nation status. A question that I have is: How do you assess the current political and trade relations between the two countries?
Elin Suleymanov (3:08) I think, thank you, I think we have a very strong, and I would call this an excellent strategic relationship. Azerbaijan is the largest trading partner of the United States, in our region South Caucasus, by far. Our trade is both imports and exports were almost equal but was significantly larger than those of our neighbors. We have invested about eight billion dollars from our Sovereign wealth fund in American equities into our different areas. American’s have invested in Azerbaijan. Generally, it’s a very open environment, you know from energy to agriculture, to services, it’s a very open economy. In fact, we’re expecting an upcoming agriculture forum soon in April in Illinois. I’m looking at opportunities to work with Utah on economic development. That’s on the economic side, things are very good. We’re the first country in our region to get Boeing 787’s, which is an agreement to have an open flight to Baku and JFK in New York which is a very comfortable flight, direct flight. And we have an open sky agreement and there’s a lot of improvement in all the areas. Politically speaking, I think we have an excellent relationship today as well. I want to especially emphasize that in October of last year, 2018, national security advisor Ambassador John Bolton visited Azerbaijan. He visited the region Armenia and Georgia. He visited Azerbaijan and it was a testimony to the strong relation we have and we are very grateful for the attention he paid to the development of the region and his recognition of the strategic importance of Azerbaijan. So, I think things are generally moving in the right direction, but of course, there’s always room for improvement. There are, of course, always things to be done more and I think Azerbaijan is an important player for the United States in many areas and I look forward to deepening this relationship.
Franz Kolb (5:08) Well you know, we are very grateful for the strategic alliance that has been taking place for quite a few decades. Your Excellency, let’s talk for a minute about Utah–Azerbaijan relations. What is your assessment so far and what do you see in the future?
Elin Suleymanov (5:27) Thank you, Mr. Kolb. You know, the very fact that I’ve been traveling here is both, of course, a reflection of my personal attachment to Utah — I just really like the place — and also a reflection of the kindness of our good friends like Senator Davis, like yourself, Representative Hemingway, the Governor and of course Davis, Hutchings and others. It’s really good to be here. I think we have a great opportunity. We have many good opportunities for Utah companies working in Azerbaijan. I know there was a discussion about opening up greater cooperation channels. We are looking at this. The University wants to gain, I spoke there today we have a student exchange. We have a student today from Azerbaijan at the University so we look forward to doing more together. Utah provides a great platform for an open debate, I spoke there today about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, about the tragedies which including the Khojaly, what happened [there]… But Utah has a unique opportunity to open up and to give that opportunity to speak to each other. So I think we have a great promise, I think there’s more than that. When I come to Utah you see people for whom, though we do come from very different parts of the world, there’s a certain connection. The values, the family matters, relationships matter, people are open and I think that should not be taken for granted. I think that is something which will make you stay here. I’ll tell you something which is also good. My friend and colleague is here with me today for the first time and nobody who travels to Utah for the first time thinks about not coming back. I mean you fall in love with the state. It’s truly life elevated and I think that is true of Azerbaijan. Once you travel to Azerbaijan you want to come back and I think that’s… an unusual connection between our two [areas], between Azerbaijan and the State of Utah.
Franz Kolb (7:37) Well, Mr. Ambassador, we’re so grateful you have been not just telling us this but you’ve shown over the years that you are coming back and you are one of the few ambassadors that have been coming back on a regular basis and so we are very grateful. My last question would be, we’ve talked on-and-off about potentially an Honorary Consul. How does your government feel about maybe one day appointing an Honorary Consul?
Elin Suleymanov (8:07): I am hoping that I want that person to make sure that I am not one of the few ambassadors but one of the many ambassadors who come back here because it will convince my colleagues to come here more often. Definitely, we’d be honored to have an Honorary Consul here. I’ve been always working at this, you know we’ve been talking about this for a long time. Azerbaijan has very few consuls. In the United States, we’ve only have one and that one is pending application now, one is in Santa Fe, New Mexico and another one hasn’t been appointed yet. But definitely we’re looking at it, I think the government in Azerbaijan is very open and will be working with you in our new office and new colleagues to identify the candidates and to look into this and honestly, we do need an Honorary Consul here and we want to have a constant presence in Utah. And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to be in Utah, so that’s a good one.
Franz Kolb (9:08): Great. Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador for speaking to us today. This was Ambassador, His Excellency, Elin Suleymanov visiting us in Utah today so we are so grateful. This is Franz Kolb from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for “Business Elevated.” Thank you very much for listening.
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