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By Emil Danielyan

The Azerbaijani army is able to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani lands, and will resort to the military option if peace talks with Armenia fail, President Heydar Aliev said on Monday.

“Our army is capable of liberating Azerbaijan's occupied lands and restoring Azerbaijan's territorial integrity,” Aliev declared at an official ceremony devoted to the 83rd anniversary of the country’s armed forces.

“The recent activities in the development of the army have enabled Azerbaijan to build organized, mighty and strong armed forces. We consider this one of Azerbaijan's key achievements in its 10-year independence. Today we should be satisfied with the state of our army.”

But Aliev made it clear that Baku will not take military action before exhausting all possibilities for a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Reports from the Azerbaijani capital quoted him as saying that the conflicting parties have so far failed to agree on a “compromise” peace deal and that international mediators keep up efforts to narrow their differences.

“I declare here once again that there is no need to seek other ways to settle the issue if it can be resolved by peaceful means. Therefore, we have been working in this direction and we shall continue to do so in future,” the 78-year-old Azerbaijani leader said.

The American, French and Russian mediators, who have been working on a new comprehensive plan on Karabakh, announced at the weekend that they will tour the zone of conflict in another attempt to push the peace process forward. Their previous round of shuttle diplomacy late last month led to the postponement of an important meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. The peace summit was initially due to take place in Geneva this month.

In another development, the foreign ministers of the two countries on Monday welcomed what they see as a continuing US-Russian cooperation in the Karabakh negotiating process. In separate interviews with Itar-Tass, they pointed to the recent meeting in Slovenia between US President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We believe it is very important that the presidents of the two great powers discussed the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh and agreed to continue cooperating toward its solution," Foreign Minister Oskanian said. Oskanian added that “cooperation and a unified viewpoint among the co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group is of extreme importance for a successful settlement of the conflict.”

“We highly appreciate the fact that the presidents of the two major powers have given their attention to the settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and are interested in the establishment of peace and stability in the South Caucasus,” his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Guliev said.

The two ministers spoke in Tokyo on the sidelines of a trade exhibition featuring products made in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
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