BAKU (PanArmenian/Itar Tass)–The US Ambassador to Azerbaijan said on Thursday that an attempt to force a military solution to the Mountainous Karabagh conflict would prove tragic not only to Azerbaijan–but also the entire Caucuses region.
Reno Harnish–who has served as Ambassador to Azerbaijan for just a little over a year–said during an interview with Baku-based Zerkalo newspaper that with the stepped-up military training on both sides–Azerbaijan would bear greater losses than its 30,000,000 casualties during the previous battle over Karabagh.
He also mentioned the resulting 750,000 refugees–and warned that any economic progress since 1991 would be wasted.
Asked whether the US considers it possible to find a resolution of the conflict that maintains the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan–Harnish stressed that the US has backed all UN Security Council resolutions that reflect the attitude of the international community on a solution to the Karabagh conflict–within a certain time frame.
He also explained that at the OSCE Lisbon summit–the US voted for the settlement principles put forth by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office. "Thus–it is quite clear which principles officially guide the US in this question," emphasized Harnish.
Harnish explained–however–that according to the US co-chairman of OSCE’s Minsk group Steven Mann–the US–as a member of that group tasked with finding a resolution to the conflict–"must act within its mandate–thus seek a just and long-term solution to the conflict."
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are due to meet at the CIS summit in Astana–Kazakhstan that convenes on Wednesday.
As he addressed correspondents in the town of Barda in western Azerbaijan on Saturday–Azeri president Ilham Aliyev said the meeting would clarify whether an agreement is close at hand–or if the sides are drifting away from finding one.
As he met with a group of refugees in the Barda district earlier in the day–he stressed that the Azeri government envisioned an increase of defense spending in 2005 "to strengthen our Armed Forces and make the army one of the guarantors of settling the Karabagh conflict."
While he reiterated that the country seeks a peaceful solution–he threatened that the people of Azerbaijan would free occupied territories by any means. "We have all the prerequisites for it–patriotic spirit–moral mobilization of our people–and the persistently growing economic potential."
As he addressed a meeting with public representatives in Barda on the same day–Aliyev said: "The people of Azerbaijan must be prepared to liberate its occupied lands by force."