Azeris Seek U.S. Involvement in Karabakh

Aug 12 2004

Azeris Seek U.S. Involvement in Karabakh

By Tabassum Zakaria

BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan asked the United States on Thursday to
support its bid to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh, an
Armenian-populated enclave which broke away after the collapse of the
Soviet Union.

But visiting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pledged to build
ties with the Caucasus ally, did not offer any help beyond supporting
international mediation which has yet to reconcile Azerbaijan with
its ex-Soviet neighbor Armenia.

Thousands of people were killed in fighting in Karabakh before a
truce was struck in 1994. Karabakh Armenians now control the enclave
and a swathe of Azeri territory around it.

Azerbaijan, upset by a lack of progress in mediation efforts by the
Minsk Group of 11 states, led by France, the United States and
Russia, has urged the European Union and other Western powers to get
involved directly.

“What we want from the United States as our ally and partner is for
it to support Azerbaijan in this conflict and demand that Armenia
immediately withdraws its occupation forces,” Defense Minister Safar
Abiyev told a joint news conference with Rumsfeld.

At the start of his visit, Rumsfeld said Washington was committed to
developing ties with Azerbaijan — an oil-rich country which should
start pumping oil to the West through a pipeline across Georgia and
Turkey next year.

“I agree completely that the security relationship between our two
countries continues to grow and strengthen,” Rumsfeld said during a
meeting with President Ilham Aliyev.


But he avoided responding to Abiyev’s call.

“As you know the United States supports the territorial integrity of
Azerbaijan,” he told the news conference, adding that Washington was
involved in the Minsk group.

Ties between the United States and Azerbaijan, which is seeking to
develop ties with NATO in contrast with its pro-Russian arch-foe
Armenia, strengthened after Baku backed the U.S. intervention in
Afghanistan by sending 30 troops.

Azerbaijan became the only predominantly Muslim state to send troops
to support the U.S.-led military engagement in Iraq. Around 150 Azeri
troops are deployed in Iraq.

Russian media reported last month that Azerbaijan was considering
sending an extra 250 troops to Iraq. Azeri officials denied such
plans and Rumsfeld said the issue was not raised during his visit.

“We did not discuss the possibility of expansion of Azeri troops in
Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said.