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US, Azerbaijan Pledge Continued Cooperation on Security Issues - 2004-08-12

Donald Rumsfeld says the United States is committed to strengthening its ties with Azerbaijan, especially in terms of international security. Regional security issues were high on the agenda in talks the defense secretary had Thursday with President Aliyev in the Azeri capital, Baku.

Azerbaijan is the only predominantly Muslim nation to send troops to Iraq, where it has about 150 soldiers deployed. It also has about 30 soldiers in Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held talks in Azerbaijan with President Ilham Aliyev on security and other issues.

Azerbaijan is an oil-rich nation on the Caspian Sea, where major oil companies are now constructing a new pipeline to carry Azeri crude through Georgia and Turkey.

In comments after the meeting, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked about Azerbaijan's southern neighbor Iran and its suspected program to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters the United States feels that international pressure is necessary to curb what it sees as Iran's attempt to circumvent scrutiny of its nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The Iranians have almost consistently responded to the IAEA in an unsatisfactory way," he noted.

For his part, the Azeri leader asked Mr. Rumsfeld for the United States to support Azerbaijan's aim to regain control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, the subject of a long and bitter dispute with neighboring Armenia.

Mr. Rumsfeld responded by saying the United States is already taking part in an international effort to negotiate a settlement to the conflict, along with a number of other countries.

Azerbaijan lost around one-fifth of its territory a decade ago, after a bitter six-year war ended with Armenia effectively in control of the enclave, whose population is mostly ethnic Armenian.

Ukraine and Russia are the next stops on Mr. Rumsfeld's trip through the region.