Azeris Want US Turkish Bases Says Aliyev Aide

BAKU (Reuters)–Oil-rich Azerbaijan wants the United States and Turkey to establish military bases on its territory to counter what it says are Russian threats to its independence–its top foreign policy official said Monday.

Vafa Guluzade–adviser to President Haydar Aliyev–accused Moscow of arming Armenia.

He said Russia wanted to destroy Azerbaijan’s pro-Western orientation and to derail its high-profile courting of Western oil companies–who have signed contracts worth billions of dollars to develop its Caspian Sea reserves.

"Azerbaijan is under a big threat from Russia. They are waiting to use the Armenia’s to strike at us. Russia is trying to restore the Soviet Union," Guluzade told Reuters in an interview.

"I think Turkish and American military bases will be welcomed here. Why not?" said Guluzade–reiterating commen’s he has made in the local press over recent days.

Russia–which shares a land border with the former Soviet republic of 7.5 million–has already expressed concern over Guluzade’s statemen’s about Azerbaijan’s desire to host NATO bases. Iran–another neighbor–has also expressed dismay.

Guluzade conceded that Washington and Ankara would probably hesitate to provoke Russia by setting up bases in a former Soviet republic which it still considers part of its geopolitical underbelly. But he said Russia could do no more than complain about the idea.

"People like (nationalist Russian politician Vladimir) Zhirinovsky will shout and cry–but that is all," said Guluzade–laughing and puffing on a cigarette.

"I’m not saying they (the bases) will be here in 20 minutes–but they will come here," he said.

Guluzade said the idea had been mooted to US and Turkish officials but he did not say how they had reacted.

"Silence is a good reaction," he said–adding that he planned to visit the Pentagon during an April visit by President Aliyev for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the NATO alliance.

Aliyev–75–is convalescing in a Turkish military hospital after going down with what has been described as a bout of bronchitis and a severe viral infection.

Azerbaijan has expressed outrage over covert Russian arms shipmen’s to Armenia from 1994-96 which have been acknowledged by some Russian politicians.

Further fueling its ire are recent Russian transfers of sophisticated MiG-29 fighter planes and SS-300 air defense systems to Armenian territory. Russia admits the transfers but says they are for the military base it maintains in Armenia.

Meanwhile chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Major-General Hassan Firuzabadi said in an interview with the Jomhoori Islami newspaper Sunday that the establishment of an American military base on the territory of Azerbaijan can have the most undesirable consequences.

Azeri ambassador to Teheran Abbasali Hasanov said rumors of establishing such a base in Azerbaijan were groundless.

Firuzabadi said the "enemies of Iran–including the aggressive-minded circles in the United States and Israel–are trying to reach the country from the north. Iran is closely watching those maneuvers and the attacks of propaganda hostile to Iran."

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