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US Backs NATO Cancellation of Exercises in Azerbaijan - 2004-09-13

The United States criticized Azerbaijan Monday for excluding Armenia from NATO partnership exercises planned this week in Baku. The Azerbajani action prompted NATO to cancel the maneuvers.

The State Department says it supports NATO's decision to cancel the exercises and says it "deeply regrets" Azerbaijan's decision not to issue visas for Armenian participants.

Armenia was to have been among more than 20 countries, NATO members and aspiring members of the alliance, who were to have taken part in two weeks of exercises in Azerbaijan opening Tuesday under NATO's Partnership for Peace.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said late last week he did not want officers from his country's neighbor and political rival Armenia to come to Baku and said he was taking the "necessary measures" to keep them out.

On Monday, NATO's Supreme Command decided to cancel the long-planned exercise because of the Azerbaijani stance, which a spokesman in Brussels said violated the principle of "inclusiveness" under which all NATO exercises are agreed upon and conducted.

There was a similar statement from a State Department spokesman, who backed the NATO decision and said the United States does not believe the action by Mr. Aliyev is consistent with Azerbaijan's often-stated desire to cooperate and work toward closer partnership with NATO.

The Partnership for Peace was founded by NATO in 1994 as a vehicle for helping the formerly communist countries of central and eastern Europe meet the criteria for joining the alliance.

The exercises planned for Baku, called "Cooperative Best Effort," were to have involved mock peacekeeping-support operations by small military units from 22 countries.

An official here said Azerbaijan boycotted the same partnership exercise last year, which was held in Armenia.

The two countries fought a five-year war in the early 1990's over Nagorno-Karabakh, a largely Armenian-populated region within Azerbaijan.

The conflict ended with Armenian forces in control of the enclave, though it is recognized internationally as being part of Azerbaijan.