U.S. Deputy secretary of state praises Azerbaijan cooperation

Associated Press Worldstream
March 27, 2004 Saturday 10:22 AM Eastern Time

U.S. Deputy secretary of state praises Azerbaijan cooperation

by AIDA SULTANOVA; Associated Press Writer

BAKU, Azerbaijan

A top U.S. official thanked Azerbaijan on Saturday for its support in
Iraq and Afghanistan, and reiterated that the United States has no
plans to establish military bases in the Caucasus Mountain nation.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said cooperation in Iraq
and Afghanistan, where Azerbaijan has sent peacekeepers, was proof of
a good military relationship between the United States and the mostly
Muslim former Soviet republic.

Armitage, who met with President Ilham Aliev, said in comments before
leaving the country that they had not discussed military bases
because the United States has “no desire” to establish bases in

The visit came amid continued planning for a global realignment of
U.S. forces that could result in more U.S. military activity in
former republics and satellites of the Soviet Union.

Armitage, who also met with opposition leaders, reiterated U.S.
concerns about what they say is a crackdown on dissent and
independent media. But he did not play up the problems, saying that
Aliev agrees there must be independent media.

He said that “the human rights situation is certainly not as good as
it could or should be. But it’s not a permanent situation and we have
no doubt that it will change, change for the better.”

Armitage, who arrived in Azerbaijan late Friday from neighboring
Armenia, said that a settlement of the persistent conflict between
the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave cannot be imposed
from above by outside forces.

“It has to be a lasting and durable solution, and it has to be
something the two sides agree on,” he said. He said an international
mediating group that includes Russia and the United States “has some
new ideas” on the issue, but did not reveal them.

In the early 1990s, Armenian-backed forces drove Azerbaijan’s army
out of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly ethnic Armenian enclave within
Azerbaijan, in a war that killed 30,000 people and left about 1
million homeless.

A cease-fire was signed in 1994, but no agreement has been reached on
the territory’s final status and the uneasy truce is broken by
sporadic bursts of gunfire and marred by mutual recriminations.