Clinton ‘Very Concerned’ By Armenia-Azerbaijan Tensions

By Jim Mannion

Agence France Presse
June 4 2012

YEREVAN – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she was
“very concerned” by escalating tensions over Nagorny-Karabakh and
warned Armenia and Azerbaijan not to settle their conflict by force.

Clinton was speaking in Yerevan after Armenia said Azerbaijani troops
killed three Armenian soldiers during an alleged incursion, in the
latest bloodshed in the long conflict over the Armenian-controlled
Azerbaijani enclave.

“While I have only just learned about these incidents, I am very
concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless
deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians,” she told reporters.

“The use of force will not resolve the Nagorny-Karabakh conflict and
therefore force must not be used,” she said at a news conference with
Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.

An estimated 30,000 people were killed in the war 20 years ago over
Nagorny-Karabakh, when ethnic Armenian forces backed by Yerevan seized
control over the region and surrounding territories in Azerbaijan.

Skirmishes have been frequent since a 1994 ceasefire. Monday’s deadly
clash erupted in Armenia’s northeastern Tavush region, where three
other servicemen died during an alleged Azerbaijani attack in April.

Azerbaijani media reported however that the three deaths were caused
by an Armenian army “provocation” that was repelled.

Baku has threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if peace
talks fail to yield satisfactory results, but Yerevan has warned of
large-scale retaliation against any military action.

Clinton also urged Turkey to normalize relations with Armenia,
severed since 1993 at the height of the war over Nagorny-Karabakh.

“We are committed to seeing Armenia and Turkey normalize relations
because we think this is a better path forward for the citizens of
both countries and we strongly support ratification of the protocols
(of normalization) without preconditions,” she said.

“The ball is in Turkey’s court,” she said.

US officials say better relations with Turkey could help Armenia’s
struggling economy, which suffered a 15 percent drop in GDP during
the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

“We believe these are countries that should have open borders,
should work together, should trade, they should have people to people
exchanges because it would be mutually beneficial to all concerned,”
she said.

Clinton, who met with President Serzh Sarkisian, also planned to
use her visit to stress the importance of rule of law, transparency
and fair elections after recent parliamentary polls and presidential
elections due in 2013.

Parliamentary elections last month drew charges of vote buying,
but OSCE monitors said the process was improved over elections in 2008.

Clinton met with Armenia’s leaders as she embarked on a tour of the
turbulent Caucasus with its volatile mixture of oil, ethnic conflict
and great power politics.

Landlocked Armenia is the first stop in a Caucasus swing that will
also take Clinton to Georgia, Azerbaijan and then to Turkey.

After her meeting here, Clinton travels to staunch US ally Georgia
which fought a brief 2008 war with Russia over two breakaway regions
and whose pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili remains an arch-foe
of Moscow.

In Azerbaijan, Clinton will see a country with a rapidly growing
energy-based economy that has made it much-wooed player in the region,
sitting on a “southern gas corridor” from the Caspian Sea.

Highlighting the energy interests of the United States, which has
invested $8 billion in the country since independence in 1991, the
secretary will visit an oil and gas trade exposition in Baku.

From: Baghdasarian

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