BAKU: Caucasus Is Seat Of Tension: U.S. National Intelligence News D

CAUCASUS IS SEAT OF TENSION: U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE NEWS DIRECTOR

Trend News Agency
Feb 13 2009
Azerbaijan

Difficulties resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict create tensions
in the South Caucasus, U.S. National Intelligence News Director Dennis
Blair said.

"Azerbaijan has been concerned about isolation since Kosovo announced
independence, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia and
Armenian-Turkish relations improved," Blair said during Special Senate
Intelligence Committee hearings at the Capitol, ITAR-TASS reported.

Armenia is also worried about Azerbaijan’s increasing army, he
added. Both countries are facing problems implementing democratic
reforms due to the economic downturn, he said.

The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988
when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed
forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including
the Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 surrounding districts. Azerbaijan
and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of
the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France, and the U.S. – are currently
holding the peace negotiations.

"There are great tensions in the Caucasus," Blair said. "Six months
after the military conflict between Russia and Georgia over Abkhazia
and South Ossetia, the regions are still hot spots."

"Although the political situation in Georgia has stabilized, President
Mikheil Saakashvili faces increasing criticism from the opposition. His
reaction will either strengthen or break down the democratic process
in the country," he said.

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