ASTANA, Kazakhstan (Combined Sources)–The long-standing conflict over the Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is almost certain to spark a new war if it remains unresolved, Azerbaijan’s defense minister said Tuesday during a meeting of the Council of Defense Ministers from former Soviet Republics in the capital of Kazakhstan.
"As long as Azerbaijani territory is occupied by Armenia, the chance of war is close to 100 percent," Safar Abiyev said during a meeting in Kazakhstan of defense chiefs from ex-Soviet republics.
His startlingly worded remark was a reminder that Azerbaijan has not ruled out use of force in recapturing Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
Azerbaijan and Armenia remain locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh despite more than a decade of coaxing from international mediators led by the United States, Russia and France to resolve the region’s status.
Responding to Abiyev’s announcement, Armenian Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian said he sees no alternative to a peaceful settlement, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
War rhetoric will not scare Armenia, he said as he blasted Baku for its continued belligerence while diplomats and heads of both states seek ways to end the conflict.
"As long as Armenian troops continue to occupy Azerbaijan’s lands the possibility of war is nearly 100 percent,’ he said.
Meanwhile, during the meeting, the Council of Defense Ministers reaffirmed their plans to develop a joint air defense network and to conduct joint military exercises. They had convened in the Kazakh capital to discuss future military cooperation.
"Our priorities will remain the development of an integrated air defense network, joint military exercises, and the strengthening of existing venues of military-technical cooperation," Kazakh Defense Minister Danial Akhmetov told reporters after the meeting.
An integrated air defense network was set up by 10 CIS-member countries February 10, 1995, but so far exists only on paper. Nevertheless, CIS partners regularly hold joint exercises, involving respective Air Force and air defense units.
The next meeting of the Council will be held in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, in the first half of 2008.