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Armenia Blames NATO Chief For Exercise Pullout


Armenia -- Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, undated
Armenian soldiers were expected to take part in the three-week exercises that began at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi earlier in the day. The Defense Ministry in Yerevan unexpectedly cancelled their participation in the drills on Tuesday, citing unspecified “current circumstances.”

Ohanian clarified the next day that the main reason for the move was NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Karabakh conflict voiced after talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev last week.

“Our decision was also affected by the fact that the NATO secretary general, meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Aliev recently, mentioned only the principle of territorial integrity among international norms [applicable to the Karabakh dispute,]” Ohanian told journalists. “And yet the most authoritative international organization dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the OSCE and its Minsk Group, and many other countries refer to all norms of international law, including the peoples’ self-determination, territorial integrity and non-use of force.”

Belgium -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (L) with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at NATO headquarters in Brussels, 29Apr2009
Speaking at a joint news conference with Aliev in Brussels on April 29, de Hoop Scheffer reportedly stated that the restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh must not be called into question in the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. Aliev thanked NATO for its “resolute position” on the conflict.

The NATO chief’s remarks appeared to be at odds with the existing peace proposals of the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the Minsk Group. Their proposed “basic principles” of a Karabakh settlement reportedly allow for an eventual international recognition of the Armenian-controlled region’s secession from Azerbaijan. U.S. officials have repeatedly said that self-determination is one of those principles.

Some local observers believe that Russia’s strong opposition to the NATO drills was also a factor behind Yerevan’s last-minute decision not to participate in them. Relations between Russia and the U.S.-led alliance have worsened further over a spy scandal involving Russian diplomats in Brussels.
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