US ‘Disappointed’ by Armenian Absence from NATO Conference in Baku

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States expressed regret that Armenia was unable to attend last week’s NATO conference in Azerbaijan; Armenia blamed Azerbaijani and Turkish authorities for impeding its delegation’s entry into Azerbaijan.

"The United States is disappointed that an official delegation from the Armenian Ministry of Defense was unable to join the initial planning conference for the Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercise "Cooperative Best Effort 2004"–held in Baku–January 13-15," the State Department said in a statement circulated by the US embassy in Yerevan on Tuesday.

"We do not yet have all the facts on just why the Armenian delegation was denied the opportunity to travel to Baku–Azerbaijan–on January 13," the statement said.

The Armenian government said Azerbaijan forced authorities at Istanbul airport to prevent three Armenian Defense Ministry officials from boarding a plane bound for the Azeri capital. The officers–led by Colonel Murad Isakhanian–hoped to obtain entry visas at the Bina airport in Baku after failing to get them from the Azerbaijani consulate in Tbilisi.

Isakhanian and other senior Armenian military officials told reporters on Friday that the route and other logistical modalities of their attempted trip were suggested by the US military attach in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has denied thwarting their planned arrival in Baku. There has been no official reaction from Turkey.

Washington did not openly side with either party in the diplomatic spat–urging the two regional arch-foes to cooperate within the PfP framework. "We call on our partners Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve any obstacles that lie in the way of full cooperation with each other and with NATO in the PfP context," the State Department said.

The Armenian military–meanwhile–says it will not abandon plans to participate in the NATO-led exercise to be held in Azerbaijan this summer.

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