Baku made mistake by denying Armenians entry to Azerbaijan - pundit

Ekho, Baku
16 Sep 04

Azerbaijan's refusal to entertain Armenian officers at the NATO
Cooperative Best Effort 2004 exercises in Baku has been stirring the
Azerbaijani public for several days now.

[Passage omitted: reported statement by the US ambassador about
Washington regretting that Armenian officers were denied visas]

The ambassador is right that earlier Baku, namely its president,
gave assurances that it would ensure the security of the Armenian
officers, should they take part in the NATO exercises. It happened in
summer. Let's also recall that after their latest meeting in Prague
on 30 August, Foreign Ministers Elmar Mammadyarov and Vardan Oskanyan
gave very high assessments of the talks, saying that their results
were reassuring and could lead to progress in the negotiations between
Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocharyan.

>>From this standpoint, the following excerpt from the Azerbaijani
Foreign Ministry's statement made after the NATO decision to cancel the
exercises looks quite strange: "In the circumstances of the ongoing
occupation of 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory and the presence
of 1m refugees, the leadership of the Republic of Armenia is taking
an increasingly non-constructive position in the negotiations."

The former head of the Azerbaijani presidential secretariat and
currently the chairman of the public forum In the name of Azerbaijan,
Eldar Namazov, believes that the Azerbaijani leadership is to blame
for the tension that has taken shape.

"This is totally wrong when such an important event, which had been
planned for a long time, is called off hours before it is scheduled
to start. And this was done for a reason which, as it was clear
from the very beginning, could bring about serious consequences. The
Azerbaijani authorities should have raised the issue at an earlier
stage and shouldn't have waited for visitors to arrive from a number
of countries and, with only several hours left till the start of
the exercises, made a hasty decision which will obviously affect our
relations with NATO," Namazov said.

The political analyst thinks this is a "serious mistake by the
Azerbaijani authorities".

"As for the implications of the decision, I think there will
probably be a pause in our relations now. But I think this will
first of all concern the NATO administration's assessment of the
Azerbaijani leadership's actions, while Azerbaijan as a state will
continue to attract the alliance's interest. Because we are located
at a very important strategic junction between Europe and Asia,
the South-West and North-South corridors go through Azerbaijan,
Caspian oil resources will be transported to the world market through
Azerbaijan. All this causes permanent interest in our country on the
part of world superpowers and leading international organizations,
and this interest is unlikely to lessen because of such short-sighted
actions by the Azerbaijani leadership," he said.

"I am unhappy with the way international bodies are handling the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, but from the standpoint of the state we
have to bear in mind that Azerbaijan's national security is threatened
by dozens of international challenges. The Armenian aggression is the
main, but not the only one of these challenges. And if NATO can help
us avert other threats, then cooperation with NATO represents great
value for us," Namazov added.

Namazov does not believe that things will reach a point when relations
with NATO will be terminated, "but further steps will be taken with
a view to how consistent the Azerbaijani authorities will be".