BAKU (Agence France Press)–Azeri Defense Minster Safar Abiyev told the alliance’s Secretary General George Robertson on January 17 that Azerbaijan plans to host multinational exercises within NATO’s Partnership for Peace program later this year. The PFP program is a military cooperation arrangement between NATO and former Communist countries in central and eastern Europe.
Robertson met Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev on January 16 to discuss security within the volatile Caucasus region. The two leaders reviewed Baku’s ongoing dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave–but Robertson declined the offer for the Atlantic alliance to become directly involved in talks.
After talking with Robertson on the second day of the Chief’s visit to Azerbaijan–Abiyev said the military exercises will involve command staff officers from NATO member countries–as well from participants in the PFP program.
Robertson expressed satisfaction that Azerbaijan had sent 31 troops to participate in NATO’s peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. His visit to Azerbaijan took place against a backdrop of international unease over the possible aftereffects of depleted uranium weapons used by the NATO force in Kosovo and Bosnia. Several soldiers have died of leukemia after serving as part of the NATO force in the Balkans. However–the 31 Azeri troops had undergone medical tests and none of them had any reported health problems.