BAKU: Aliyev, Armitage reaffirm development of Azeri-U.S. relations

Azer News, Azerbaijan
April 1 2004

Aliyev, Armitage reaffirm development of Azeri-U.S. relations

One of last week’s most important political events was the official
visit by first US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Armitage to
Baku. The visit was part of a regional tour which included Ukraine
and Armenia. According to

Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia,
the goal of Armitage’s visit to Azerbaijan was to “study priority
directions of the Azeri President and his government’s activity”.
“Armitage has been preparing for this visit for a long time. The goal
of the visit is to discuss with the top officials ways to develop
relations between the three countries,” Jones underlined.
Particularly, cooperation in fighting terrorism, economic reforms,
energy, and the situation in the region were in focus during the Baku

`It is the first time U.S. officials have had such a high level
meeting in Azerbaijan since Ilham Aliyev’s election as President of
Azerbaijan. From this standpoint, the United States is interested in
studying the priority directions of the new President and his
government’s activity. The relations between Richard Armitage and
Ilham Aliyev set good groundwork for talks. Armitage is also expected
to meet leaders of the opposition and NGO structures,’ she stated.
Armitage, who arrived in Baku Friday evening after visiting Yerevan,
left Azerbaijan Saturday afternoon. While in Baku, he had meetings
with President Aliyev, leaders of two opposition parties and
pro-government and independent political figures at the US Embassy in
Baku. He also briefed journalists at the airport before his
departure. Armitage also had a closed-door meeting with President
Aliyev on Saturday. Afterwards, the meeting was opened to other
participants. Noting that bilateral cooperation is developing rapidly
in all spheres, President Aliyev said large scale energy projects
were being implemented in Azerbaijan with support from the United
States. Underlining that the U.S. government has assisted Azerbaijan
in carrying out economic reforms in the country, Aliyev voiced his
hope for the US’s support for the implementation of the
socio-economic development program in the future. Aliyev said, `We
are confident that this cooperation will strengthen in the future.
Azerbaijan is in alliance with the United States to combat terrorism.
We are allies and this policy will continue. All this shows that our
countries’ successful cooperation will deepen in the future.’ Stating
that the Upper Garabagh conflict presents great difficulties to
regional security, the Azerbaijani President underscored that peace
would be established in the region soon. `We hope that the OSCE Minsk
Group plays an active role in the settlement of the conflict and
Azerbaijani lands are liberated from the Armenian occupation within
international legal norms.

`No plans for military bases’ – Armitage
I appreciate your visit to Azerbaijan and I am sure that the
relations between us and our countries will develop after this
visit,’ Aliyev stressed. Armitage, in his turn, thanked President
Aliyev and the Azerbaijani people for supporting the United States in
fighting terrorism. `Azerbaijan is in coalition with us and takes
part in joint operations. I would like to particularly mention the
courageous service of the Azerbaijani military personnel who are
assisting us in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, our aim is to reach a
higher level in bilateral economic, political, military and social
cooperation.’ Touching upon the conflict over Upper Garabagh, the
U.S. official said that his country wanted the conflict to be settled
peacefully. `We believe that the Caucasus may become a very good
partner of the West in the future. However, above all, the existing
problems in the Caucasus should be solved. Therefore, I have great
confidence in talks with you.’

`No plans for military bases’
Talking to a Saturday news conference for local and foreign media at
Bina Airport prior to departure, Richard Armitage said that the
stationing of U.S. military bases in Azerbaijan was not discussed
with President Aliyev and his country didn’t have such a plan.
Armitage said he was satisfied with the results of his Baku visit. He
extended his gratitude to President Aliyev for the participation of
the Azerbaijani military in peacekeeping operations in Iraq. Stating
that the issue of freedom of press in Azerbaijan was also discussed
during the meeting, Armitage said President Aliyev pledged that
public television would become independent. He added that, “Ilham
Aliyev is promoting the development of the open-minded and
progressive individual”. Underlining that the status of human rights
in Azerbaijan remains unsatisfactory, Armitage said, “The situation
in this field could be better”. Touching upon the settlement of the
Upper Garabagh conflict, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State said that
the OSCE Minsk Group was only a mediator on this matter. He also
expressed his hope that the conflicting sides would reach agreement.
Stating that it would be good if borders between Turkey and Armenia
opened, Armitage said that during the meeting President Aliyev
stressed that opening the Turkish-Armenian borders would negatively
affect the resolution of the conflict. In reply to a question about
the stationing the U.S. military bases in Azerbaijan, Armitage said
that this issue was not discussed with President Aliyev and his
country didn’t have any plans to do so. It is also indicative that
besides Gambar and Karimli, the meeting was also attended by Garayev
and Imanov, who are often referred to as possible leaders of the new
opposition. Furthermore, the pro-government wing was represented by
S.Sayidov and A.Mammadkhanov, who are deemed in the West as the
“young reformers” of President Aliyev’s team. The Chairman of the
Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan (PNIA) Etibar Mammadov,
who often takes part in such meetings, was not present. This could be
explained by the fact that Mammadov has not made many public
appearances since the presidential elections. Asked of the US
military assistance to Azerbaijan, Armitage said that Azerbaijan
supported military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, which put a heavy
burden on Baku. It is for this reason that Baku is receiving greater
military assistance from Washington than Armenia. Also, Azerbaijan is
supplying fuel for US aircraft en route to Iraq, which also promotes
increased US financial assistance to Azerbaijan. However, the volume
of US economic aid to Armenia is greater than that to Azerbaijan and
other countries in the region, Armitage added.