New Azeri Leader Faces Dilemma between NATO Deployment and Russian Proposal

BAKU (Ekho)– In an interview with the Azeri newspaper Ekho–an officer who asked not to be identified predicted–"new and interesting developmen’s" on a resolution to the Mountainous Karabagh conflict–to take place at the beginning of 2004. The officer revealed that Baku faces the dilemma of whether to allow deployment of NATO bases in Azerbaijan or accept Moscow’s help in liberating occupied districts. He said that "something serious" is expected to happen after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s January visit to Baku.

In the December 18 article "Occupied Lands in Return for NATO Bases," the paper writes that an informed source at the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry has said–"A decision will be taken in January as to whether NATO will deploy mobile military bases in Azerbaijan or whether Baku will agree to Moscow’s proposal to reject these plans in exchange for a promise to return two to three occupied districts."

Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Nikolay Ryabov–advised Baku that the presence of military forces on Azeri territory would not help to resolve the Karabagh conflict. "Attempts by the countries not related to the Caspian region to place their troops in the region will lead to tensions" he told journalists–referring specifically to Azerbaijan’s relations with Russia and Iran.

In response–Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev announced that Azerbaijan has no intentions of allowing foreign troops to be stationed on its territory. At the annual summit of the NATO and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels that took place earlier this month–however–Guliyev did propose that a NATO information office be opened in Baku and joint training conducted.

The same unidentified officer–however–also told Ekho that US forces are already on Azeri territory–"US military planes of "F" type are already on the territory of the military airport in the settlement of Nasosnu [Tagiyev settlement]. We have seen it ourselves. Moreover–the Qaraheybat military training ground has been sealed off for quite some time.

We went there on a mission recently but we were not let into the territory of the training ground without any explanation. We phoned the Defense Ministry and heard that we have no business to be at the training ground. However–we saw US military cargo planes via binoculars which delivered military hardware and equipment to the training ground. It was obvious that something was being built in the area. US officers are in charge of these activities. According to our information–such preparations are under way only in the area of deployment of our military unit. Our officers say that that a US base is being constructed."

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