BAKU (Reuters)–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev left for the NATO summit in Washington on Thursday carrying three new oil contracts after declaring his intention to galvanize international concern over the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic conflict.
"I will raise the Karabakh issue and insist the international community pay the same amount of attention to Karabakh as they do to the Balkan crisis," the president of the oil-producing republic told journalists at Baku airport.
Aliyev–who expects to meet Armenian president Robert Kocharian this week to discuss new proposals for a solution–has drawn parallels between the crisis in the Balkans and the Karabakh war.
Aliyev hopes to strengthen already good relations with the United States by signing three new oil contracts worth some $5 billion in potential investment with US oil majors Exxon and Mobil and Texan oil company Moncrief.
"It’s a solid diplomatic move to endear Azerbaijan to the authorities in Washington–and Aliyev will use it to promote the image of Azerbaijan as a stable and safe place to invest," said a western diplomat in Baku.
Aliyev–who has already signed deals worth some $40 billion in potential investment with foreign companies to develop Caspian Sea reserves–is likely to ask for the lifting of a seven-year ban on humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan.
Diplomats in the capital of this former Soviet republic say the 75-year-old president will probably state his case at the summit on NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia but will be careful not to anger Russia.
Russia’s special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin was in Baku on Tuesday seeking a unified approach to the Kosovo conflict before the NATO summit.
In a heated meeting–Aliyev told Chernomyrdin that he could not condone the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians–although he supported Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity.
Azerbaijan–which has become more pro-NATO in recent months–has agreed to contribute 30 soldiers to a Turkish battalion under the Western alliance’s partnership for peace program.
Senior Azeri officials have said they would also welcome NATO air bases and troops to guard against what they consider a Russian threat.