BAKU (Reuters)–Planned joint military exercises by Azerbaijan and the United States were cancelled on Monday against a backdrop of strained ties between Washington and the oil-producing former Soviet republic.
The announcement by Azerbaijan followed its sharp criticism of Washington’s role in its festering conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Diplomats say the criticism reflects Azeri anger over U.S. support for a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s close Muslim ally Turkey to mend ties and reopen their border.
Azerbaijan, a supplier oil and gas to the West, fears the deal will weaken its hand in negotiations with Armenia over Karabakh mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.
Azerbaijan did not specify who canceled the exercises planned for May, or why, but the U.S. embassy said it suggested “that the question be posed to the government of Azerbaijan”.
An Azeri Defence Ministry spokesman told Reuters: “The exercises are canceled, but the reason is not known.”
In an interview with Reuters on Friday, a senior aide to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev accused the United States of siding with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and warned that Baku could “reconsider” its relations with Washington.
The United States is co-mediator with Russia and France in the Minsk Group negotiated peace talks.
Despite misgivings over human rights under Aliyev, the United States has traditionally had good relations with Azerbaijan, which hosts oil majors including BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron.
Stung by the Azeri backlash, Turkey now says it will only ratify the deal with Armenia if Yerevan makes concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Diplomats say the issue is weighing on negotiations between Turkey and Azerbaijan on gas supplies and transit, complicating plans for the U.S. and European-backed Nabucco pipeline.