Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Azerbaijan calls off talks with US over wording dispute

AP , BAKU

Azerbaijan has postponed a high-level visit to the US because of what it claimed were changes in US wording describing its dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

The Caspian Sea coast nation's Foreign Ministry warned that the issue "may become a serious impediment to further security-related cooperation between our countries" -- a possible reference to Azerbaijan's contribution to the US-led coalition in Iraq.

The government postponed the two-day visit for security talks, which was to have started yesterday and to have included high-level officials from several ministries, because of "changes to the provisions" on Nagorno-Karabakh in the State Department's report last year on human rights abroad, a ministry statement said Sunday.

The changes "distort the essence of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" and their introduction "puts in doubt the US position of the 'honest broker' in the resolution of the conflict," the statement said.

It did not offer details, and officials were not available for comment after the statement's release.

high tension

Nagorno-Karabakh is a territory inside Azerbaijan that has been controlled by Armenian and local ethnic Armenian forces since a six-year war that ended in 1994. Tension remains high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus.

There was speculation in Azerbaijan that the government was angry at the absence, in the State Department's report, of a statement saying that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenia.

The country report on Azerbaijan, posted on the State Department Web site, states that last year "Armenia continued to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories" -- wording that is apparently acceptable to Azerbaijan.

armenia

The report on Armenia, however, states: "Armenian forces occupy large portions of Azerbaijani territory adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian officials maintain that they do not `occupy' Nagorno-Karabakh itself."

The Azerbaijani statement said resolution of the conflict "based on the territorial integrity of ... Azerbaijan, with Nagorno-Karabakh as its inalienable part, is a primary and foremost element" in its security cooperation with the US.

The US said its policy had not changed.

"Any interpretation that our policy regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has changed is not correct," State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said on Sunday.

She said the US was aware of Azerbaijan's statement announcing the postponement and was in contact with its government.

"These talks are important and we look forward to them taking place at the earliest date," Beck said.

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