US Azerbaijan React to Kocharian Appointment

WASHIGNTON (Combined Sources) – Reacting to the news of Robert Kocharian’s–President of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh appointment as the prime minister of the the Republic of Armenia–Nicholas Burns–spokesperson for the US State Department touched upon the issue during a press conference Thursday–by stating the US government’s position on the matter.

Burns explained that the US has worked for four years on finding a resolution to the conflict in the region. "I think you know what our legal position is on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. I think you know that Azerbaijan–I think –has at various times had 20 percent of its territory occupied," stated Burns at the press conference. He went on to explain that an international process in in place–and that the US is participating in the process as a co-chair.

To the question of whether Levon Ter-Petroysan’s move to appoint Kocharina as prime minister signified the begining of an unofficial annexation of Karabakh in Armeni’s border–Burns responded– "We would not favor such a process–and we hope very much that that is not the intention of the government of Armenia."

Azerbaijan reacted cautiously Friday to news of Kocharian’s appointment but diplomats said the move could harm regional peace efforts.

"I am going to reserve comment until I can determine the motive for (Ter-Petrosyan’s) act,” Azeri Foreign Minister Hasan Hassanov told reporters by telephone in Baku.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov took a more criticial line–saying Armenia "wanted to reinforce its annexation of the territory Azerbaijan," however–his commen’s appeared to be of personal nature rather than official.

Ittibar Mamedov–leader of the opposition National Independence Party–also slammed Kocharian’s appointment. "This…shows again that the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic is a puppet regime…that this region has been annexed by Armenia," Mamedov told Azerbaijan’s Turan news agency.

Azeri government offices and media outlets were closed on Thursday and Friday for the Navruz holiday–and consequently reports of the news were not disseminated widely.

The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is completely populated by Armenia’s.

Western diplomats in Baku close to negotiations on the Karabakh conflict said that the appointment indicated Armenia’s intent to take a hard line approach to the issue.

"I think that this was a surprise for the Azeri government and that it might influence peace negotiations very negatively. It will be much harder to make progress,” said one diplomat. He said he thought Ter-Petrosyan–who gave no explanations for his decision–had acted to pacify nationalist and opposition groups who have until now seen his rule as illegitimate.

"Ter-Petrosyan’s domestic position has been considerably

weakened. He is under great pressure to find common ground with the opposition,” said the diplomat.

Kocharian will replace Armen Sarkissian who resigned earlier this month because of poor health.

On Friday Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Armenian officials in Yerevan as saying Kocharian’s appointment would not have a negative effect on peace talks–provided Azerbaijan did not try to exploit the move for its own benefit. Armenia has always insisted it was not formally involved in the fighting over Karabakh.

Azeri president calls off trip to Pakistan

BAKU–March 21 (Reuter) – Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev on Friday called off a planned trip to Pakistan–a day after the leader of Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh was named premier of neighbouring Armenia.

The president’s press service said parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov would replace Aliyev at the summit meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Islamabad due to be held on Sunday.

No official reason was given for Aliyev’s change of plans.

Political analysts suggested–however–that the cancellation was linked to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s surprise decision on Thursday to make Karabakh leader Robert Kocharyan the new prime minister of Armenia.

Karabakh–populated mostly by ethnic Armenia’s but within Azerbaijan’s borders–broke away from Baku’s rule in the late 1980s but has not been recognised by a single country.

The territorial dispute set off years of open war between Moslem Azeris and Christian Armenia’s in and around the enclave which claimed thousands of lives.

Armenian forces took not only all of Karabakh but eventually occupied a large stretch of Azerbaijan proper which they still hold.

Violence ended with the signing of a 1994 ceasefire but no peace deal has been achieved– despite international mediation.

There has been no official reaction from Baku on Kocharyan’s appointment but some Azeri politicians and government officials have expressed dismay.

Western diplomats predicted it would set back regional peace efforts.

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