BAKU: MP says US military presence could facilitate solution toAzerb

MP says US military presence could facilitate solution to Azerbaijan’s

Zerkalo, Baku
11 Nov 04

An Azerbaijani MP has blamed Russia for instability in the South
Caucasus and said it was time to ask other countries for help
in bringing back peace to the region. In his comments to Zerkalo
newspaper, Alimammad Nuriyev said he was “genuinely” interested in the
stationing of US military bases in Azerbaijan which, he said, could
facilitate a solution to some of Azerbaijan’s domestic problems. The
following is an excerpt from report by C. Sumarinli and C. Bayramova
in the Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo on 11 November headlined
“NATO forces could be stationed in Fuzuli District” and sub-headed
“Russian media claim that the USA pushes Azerbaijan into an abysm of
chaos”. Subheadings have been inserted editorially.

Russia’s concerns

In an effort to thwart Russia’s initiative of building the strategic
Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran vector, the USA and Turkey are cherishing some
kind of a plan. Namely, as [Russian] Gazeta SNG reports, the two
countries, without the unnecessary hue and cry, intend to launch a
programme of assistance to the Azerbaijani Armed Forces similar to
the Train and Equip programme apparently finishing in Georgia.

“Back in July 2002, the information came in that soon after the arrival
of several hundred US commandos in Georgia, about 40 US servicemen
came to Azerbaijan, apparently for training purposes as well. It is
hard to say how many US servicemen there are in Azerbaijan now,” says
the author of the article and adds that these countries have chosen
the zone of the Karabakh conflict (Fuzuli District) to implement
their training programmes.

The author says that it is not at all necessary to be in an immediate
vicinity of the contact line to provide training – there are also
firing ranges in the rear which have been generously scattered on the
entire territory of Azerbaijan ever since the Soviet times. However,
the article contains a pointed hint that the USA is interested in
destabilizing the situation in the region. “The lessons the US military
taught to Georgian servicemen are manifesting themselves. The central
role in instability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is played by the
very Georgian commandos trained by the Americans. If the USA manages
to break the `Russian chain’ in the Caucasus and, following Abkhazia
and South Ossetia, destabilize the zone of the Karabakh conflict, a
`US-controlled chaos’ will be in store for the region.”

“Azerbaijan’s priority – integration into Euro-Atlantic area”

The head of the press service of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry,
Ramiz Malikov, says he has no information about the training of our
servicemen by that of the USA. He described the reports as being wide
of the mark.

Contrary to this, a member of the standing parliamentary commission
on defence and security, Alimammad Nuriyev, says: “It sounds quite
realistic that US servicemen may train ours. And I can’t rule out
that this may be so in the near future. The concern of the Russian
side over the possible stationing of the US forces in Azerbaijan is
understandable. However, we shouldn’t forget that cooperation between
the USA and Azerbaijan, which are allies, may develop in different
spheres. While up until now this cooperation mainly centred on the
political and economic fields, now these relations may expand in the
military sphere as well,” Nuriyev said.

In principle, Azerbaijan should treat quite normally the possible
stationing of US mobile forces and the establishment of training
centres on its territory, at least because our country is part of the
antiterror coalition. At the same time, the MP said that Azerbaijan’s
priority is integration into the Euro-Atlantic security system. This
implies that the process of army building in Azerbaijan must be in
line with the NATO standards. And this necessitates the opening of
such training centres.

The MP added that “it wasn’t by chance that during his recent visit
to Baku NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer assigned the
`homework’ of ensuring the involvement of US top brass in the training
of Azerbaijani servicemen”.

Time to ask for help in restoring stability in South Caucasus

At the same time, Nuriyev said that the opening of the US training
centres on the territory of Azerbaijan can to some degree facilitate
the solution to the country’s problems. “This first of all holds true
for the Karabakh problem. Our commandos trained by the US servicemen
may play a major role in liberating our occupied territories,”
he said. The MP welcomed the idea of a US military presence in
Azerbaijan. “While I do not have credible information about the
presence of US military bases here, I would genuinely like that to
happen. Why don’t we use the NATO security systems for our integration
into the Euro-Atlantic area when the Qabala radar station being used
by Russia can easily operate in our country?”

At the same time, the MP does not believe that the American presence
in the region can destabilize the situation. “Instability has been
an inherent part of this region since 1990 and this is `thanks’ to
an active involvement of the Russian armed forces and their support
for the Armenian side. It is common knowledge that Russia could have
turned the South Caucasus into a stable region. But it chose not
to. Therefore, to stabilize the situation it is necessary to resort
to the assistance of other countries,” the MP said.

[Passage omitted: opinion of an independent expert]