BAKU: Armitage Says US Has No Desire To Establish Base In Azerbaijan

Baku Today, Azerbaijan
March 28 2004

US Diplomat Says His Country Has No Desire To Establish Base In

Richard Armitage, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, said on Saturday
that he had not discussed military bases with President Ilham Aliyev
because his country has `no desire’ to set up bases in Azerbaijan.

Armitage, who arrived Baku late Friday on the last leg of his trip to
Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan, thanked Aliyev for his support in
Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said cooperation in so called U.S.-led war against terror and also
Azerbaijan’s support for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Baku
has sent peacekeepers, was proof of a good military relationship
between the United States and a Muslim country.

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 former Soviet Union.

Armitage, who also met with opposition leaders, reiterated U.S.
concerns about what the opposition calls a crackdown on dissent and
independent media. But he did not play up the problems, saying that
Aliev agrees that 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 said that a settlement of the lingering conflict between
Armenian and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh 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.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly ethnic-Armenian populated western region
of Azerbaijan, was occupied by Armenia in 1991-94 war. Armenian
troops also took control over Azerbaijan’s seven administrative
districts – Lachin, Kelbejer, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jebrail, Zengilan and
Gubadli – surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

As a result of the war, over 700,000 Azeris left their homes in the
occupied territories. Azerbaijan was also subjected to a heavy burden
of more 400,000-refugee population that fled Armenia.

Around 400,000 ethnic-Armenians also had to move from their homes in
Baku and Azerbaijan’s other districts after Nagorno-Karabakh began
demanding unification with Armenia in 1988.

A cease-fire was signed between the two countries in 1994, but no
agreement has been reached on the territory’s final status yet.