BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Azerbaijan called on the European Union (EU) to help resolve a long-running dispute with Armenia over Mountainous Karabagh–apparently catching the EU’s executive Commission off its guard. The Commission this month added Azerbaijan–with Caucasus neighbors Armenia and Georgia–to its New Neighborhood program–which seeks closer ties with countries around the bloc following its expansion eastwards on May 1.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev lost no time in challenging Commission President Romano Prodi to translate this into action by asking the EU to take a leading role in the conflict.
Karabagh is a territory wholly inside Azerbaijan–populated by Christian ethnic Armenia’s–which broke away from Baku’s rule as the Soviet Union collapsed. The Azeris–their country controlling large oil resources–want it back.
Prodi told journalists after meeting Aliyev that the EU had expressed "our disposal to help if requested." He insisted he could not give details as no request had been made.
Not so–shot back Aliyev. "We already asked–and during today’s meeting once again," he said.
A ceasefire–ending a six-year conflict that killed about 35,000 people–has held for a decade. However–the Minsk Group of 11 countries–led by France–the United States–and Russia under the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–has so far failed to settle the problem.
Aliyev–who succeeded his father as president last year–backed the Minsk Group but said he wanted more.
"Azerbaijan is very strongly interested that other important European organizations–first of all the European Union–take a more active stand," he said.
"If Azerbaijan and Armenia are now in the New Neighborhood policy–the occupation by one country of the territory of another must be stopped," he added–demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops.
His remarks suggest the EU may face problems by rolling out the new policy–which could mean "importing" several conflicts–notably in Moldova–another New Neighbor–where a stalled war pitting Romanian-speaking Moldovans against ethnic Russia’s has also rumbled on for a decade.