BAKU (Reuters)–The Council of Europe said on Thursday Azerbaijan and Armenia had to settle a long-running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before they could become its members–Azeri state press reported.
"Both Azerbaijan and Armenia need to guarantee that the conflict is being regulated and peace is being strengthened before they can join the Council of Europe," Viktor Rufi–a Council of Europe spokesman–was quoted as saying.
Rufi–the head of the organization’s political committee in its parliamentary assembly–was speaking at a meeting with Azeri President Haydar Aliyev during a trip to Baku.
He discussed the ex-Soviet republic’s future membership of the council–which acts as a human rights watchdog.
Armenia and Azerbaijan had made some headway in negotiating an end to the 11-year-old conflict–but talks broke off after gunmen’stormed Armenia’s parliament at the end of October and shot the prime minister and six other officials.
Aliyev’s Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian has since been busy rebuilding the country’s shattered leadership and getting the government back together.
Negotiations between the two leaders have yet to resume.
Aliyev told the visiting Council of Europe delegation that talks on resolving the bitter conflict would begin again.
"During talks this year with the Armenian leader we concluded that compromise is crucial to solving the conflict and we expressed our commitment to strengthening the cease-fire and continuing negotiations," Aliyev said.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev earlier said the oil-producing republic would begin the process of joining the Council of Europe in February next year.
The Council of Europe is due to send 12 observers to monitor Azerbaijan’s first local elections on December 12.