Aliyev Again Rules Out Independence for Karabakh

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev being sworn into office after winning a second term as president of Azerbaijan

BAKU (Combined Sources)–Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev reiterated that his country will never come to terms with the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh but stopped short of threatening to win back the region by force as he was sworn in for a second term in office on Friday.

“Karabakh will never be independent,” news agencies quoted him as saying during his inauguration ceremony in Baku. “Azerbaijan will never recognize it. Neither in five, nor in ten, twenty years. Never.”

“International law and historical justice is on our [Azerbaijan’s] side,” Aliyev said. “Cooperation with Armenia is out of the question unless our lands are liberated.”

Aliyev said Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not the subject of long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks which have made considerable progress in recent years. But he did not mention details of the U.S., Russian and French mediators’ existing peace proposals that seem to uphold the Karabakh Armenia’s’ right to legitimize the disputed territory’s de facto independence from Azerbaijan in a future referendum.

"Azerbaijan will never agree to the cessation of its lands,” he said. “By strengthening our territorial integrity, we will achieve the return of the occupied lands.”

He also claimed that Azerbaijan’s position in the negotiations has grown stronger and more “consolidated,” saying that “today, the world understands that the conflicts must find their solution in this region. This can happen only in the framework of the international law and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”

The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group hope that Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian will meet soon and finally accept those proposals. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev publicly offered to host the meeting as he visited Yerevan earlier this week. Medvedev reportedly discussed the matter with Aliyev by phone on his return to Moscow. No dates have been set yet for the potentially decisive Armenian-Azerbaijani summit, though.

“We are still interested in the continuation of negotiations and our hopes have not faded yet,” said Aliyev. “We still believe that the negotiations may lead to a just settlement.”

“The opposite side must come to terms with reality. And the reality is that today it is difficult and, I would say, impossible to compete with Azerbaijan,” the Azeri president said, talking about Azerbaijan’s supposed economic and military might vis-a-vis Armenia.

“The draft budget for 2009 will envision greater amounts for the armed forces and, thus, by creating a strong army, we are accelerating the resolution of the Karabakh conflict,” Aliyev said, noting the drastic rise in military spending from $163 million to over $1 billion between 2003 and 2008.

But while pledging to further boost military spending and the strengthening of the Azerbaijani army, Aliyev voiced no direct threats to resolve the Karabakh dispute by force if the Minsk Group process fails. He said instead that Azerbaijan will regain control over Karabakh by capitalizing on its “economic might” and international law.

Aliyev regularly threatened the Armenia’s with war before the recent military conflict between Georgia and Russia. Armenian leaders maintain that Georgia’s disastrous attempt to retake South Ossetia will discourage Baku from trying the military option in the foreseeable future. A senior U.S. official likewise said last week that the likelihood of renewed fighting around Karabakh has decreased since the Russian-Georgian war.

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