Armenia Opposes NATO Bases in Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (Reuters)–Armenia opposes Azerbaijan’s wish for NATO military bases and believes a Russian military presence on its soil can ensure stability in the region–a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday.

Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said on Monday Azerbaijan wanted to host NATO bases to counterbalance a Russian military presence in neighboring Armenia.

“Azerbaijan’s eagerness to violate the current balance by establishing (NATO) military bases could be a threat for regional stability,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dzhunik Agadzhanyan told Reuters.

Azerbaijan accuses Moscow of arming its arch-foe Armenia–with which it is locked in a bloody dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris also accuses Armenia of lending the territory military and political support–and nurturing closer economic ties.

Armenia and Russia both reject these allegations.

“Taking into consideration the positions of the countries in the region–Russia’s military base (in Armenia) creates a balance which secures a fragile but stable peace in the region,” Agadzhanyan said.

Azeri and Armenian leaders are due to join U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Florida next month to try to reach a final settlement to the conflict.

Azerbaijan–which is seeking stronger ties with NATO–has in the past signaled that Baku would welcome a more powerful role for the alliance in the Caucasus region. It first voiced its desire to host NATO bases in 1999.

Russia–which shares a land border with the former Soviet republic of 7.5 million–has expressed concern over these statemen’s. Iran–another neighbor–has also expressed dismay.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian has said Armenia is opposed to NATO taking a role in the Karabakh dispute.

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