Official: NATO to help Azerbaijan strengthen its defense

AP Worldstream
Feb 03, 2005

AIDA SULTANOVA


NATO is helping Azerbaijan to strengthen its defense, to stabilize in
the volatile Caucasus region and to ensure a safe route for the
Caspian energy exports, a top alliance official said Thursday.

Patrick Hardouin, deputy secretary-general for NATO, said the alliance
is engaged in "helping Azerbaijan to have a better management
structure and institution of its defense" and added that it offers
similar expertise to other countries in the volatile region.

"Our goal is to achieve stability and peace ... in the whole region,"
Hardouin said at a news conference in Baku.

He said the alliance wants to "ensure a better and secure environment"
that would consist of strong states with the rule of law and free
market economy.

"In the case of the Caucasian states, we also want a safe route for
energy," Hardouin said.

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

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 (A=822.8 billion) pipeline that will pump Caspian Sea oil
from Azerbaijan through neighboring Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean
coast for export to Western markets.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who visited Azerbaijan on
Wednesday, said Moscow had no complaints to Azerbaijan's efforts to
forge closer ties with NATO.

Hardouin said that NATO wasn't seeking a role in international efforts
to mediate the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh _ a largely ethnic
Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that has been controlled by ethnic
Armenian forces for more thana decade.

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.