Russian, Azerbaijani officials hail bilateral ties

Associated Press Worldstream
February 2, 2005 Wednesday 12:11 PM Eastern Time

Russian, Azerbaijani officials hail bilateral ties

by AIDA SULTANOVA; Associated Press Writer

BAKU, Azerbaijan

Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday repeated Moscow’s backing for
international mediators’ efforts to resolve a decade-old conflict
between Azerbaijan and Armenia over a disputed enclave.

Speaking during a trip to this Caspian Sea nation, Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov pledged that Moscow would continue working with other
mediators to resolve the impasse over Nagorno-Karabakh – a largely
ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that has been controlled by
ethnic Armenian forces for more than a decade.

“We hope that this process will lead to an agreement,” Lavrov said
after talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov.

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a six-year war that killed some 30,000
people and drove a million from their homes, before ending in a shaky
cease fire in 1994.

Repeated efforts to negotiate a resolution to the conflict have
failed, and tensions between the two former Soviet countries remain
hostile. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has
actively been trying to broker a final deal.

During the 1990s, Azerbaijan often accused Russia of backing Armenia,
but relations between Moscow and Baku have improved in recent years.

Mammadyarov said Russian-Azerbaijani ties were developing in a
“stable and very intensive way, particularly over the last year.”

“We highly assess the strategic partnership with Azerbaijan,” Lavrov

Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation on the Caspian Sea that borders Russia
in the volatile Caucasus Mountains region, has sought to cultivate
relations with the United States and other Western nations to balance
Moscow’s influence in the region.

The U.S. administration sees the Caspian region as key to reducing
dependence on Middle East oil, and it has strongly backed a US$3.6
billion ([euro]2.8 billion) pipeline that will pump Caspian Sea oil
through Georgia to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast for export to Western

Asked about Azerbaijan’s efforts to develop closer ties with NATO,
Lavrov said that Russia had no complaints and added that Moscow also
had friendly ties with the alliance.

“Azerbaijan is a sovereign state, and like any sovereign state is
free to choose its foreign policy partners,” Lavrov said.