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Baku will stop hostilities if Yerevan starts constructive dialogue, says Azeri leader

In an interview with TASS, Ilham Aliyev pinned the responsibility for the disruption of talks on Armenia

BAKU, October 19. /TASS/. Baku is willing to stop all military action in a short timeframe if Yerevan acts constructively in negotiations, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said in an interview with TASS.

"It is not our fault that the situation is still in a ‘hot phase’. I have repeatedly said that Azerbaijan is committed to settlement principles which were produced by the longstanding negotiating process. We are ready to stop hostilities as early as tomorrow if Armenia behaves constructively in negotiations. However, the statements that we hear from Yerevan run completely counter to the basic principles ironed out by the OSCE Minsk Group," Aliyev said, when asked if he sees a way to return to the ceasefire negotiated in Moscow or if it is dead.

At the same time, he pinned the responsibility for the disruption of talks on Armenia. "The Armenian leadership recently delivered very dangerous statements, practically rejecting the basic principles. All activities of the Armenian leadership were aimed at disrupting the negotiating process. I already mentioned their numerous statements, provocations and attacks on the peaceful population of Azerbaijan. Therefore, if the Armenian side finally realizes that the way of military provocations will lead them to a catastrophe, we are ready to again suspend military action and solve the issue at the negotiating table," he noted.

The Azeri leader also underscored that Baku remains committed to its obligations assumed in contacts with its partners. "We have always relied on international law and our commitment to resolution of the conflict by peaceful means both from the very beginning and in the negotiations on the conflict settlement. We sought to abide by the obligations that Azerbaijan assumed after talks in Moscow," Aliyev stressed. "Unfortunately, Armenia blatantly violated the ceasefire. In less than 24 hours, the sleeping city of Ganja was attacked."

According to the Azeri leader, the strike was deliberately aimed at residential quarters and there were many dead and wounded after the first attack.

"In other words, Armenia brazenly violated the ceasefire, disrespecting mediators and its obligations assumed following the talks in Moscow," Aliyev said. "After the ceasefire conditions were agreed to exchange captives and dead bodies, Armenia violated the truce on the battlefield as well. However, they thought that it wasn’t enough, and they attacked Ganja. By the way, they did it again two days ago at night. This is an ignoble crime, this is international terrorism. And the fact that the international community unanimously condemned this bloody crime is telling that they won’t get away with it this easily.

Azerbaijan remains loyal to the basic principles of the OSCE Minsk Group for settling the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Ilham Aliyev told TASS. "We are committed to the basic principles which I spoke about," Aliyev stressed. "These are the return of the territories occupied by the Armenian side, talks on the future of Nagorno-Karabakh and the return of refugees and forcibly displaced persons to the places of their original residence, including Nagorno-Karabakh and Shusha. This is all written out in the basic principles, and the Armenian side agreed to all of that at different stages," the Azeri president pointed out.

"The basic principles set out that all communications will open, not just the Lachin Corridor [that connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh - TASS]. Communications between mainland Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic [Azeri exclave - TASS] must also open. The Armenian side was also supposed to provide security guarantees for this corridor. Communications on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan are to also open," he added. Aliyev underlined, "It was also supposed that Armenia would have an unobstructed land access to Russia, which it is not stripped of now, but the crossing is much more convenient through Azerbaijan as it does not depend on weather conditions, snowfalls in the mountains and so on." "In other words, it is a part of the compromise package which envisioned de-occupation of the Azeri territories and return of Azeri refugees to all lands that they were chased away from. This implies not just the seven regions but also the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh as more than 25% of the whole Azeri population lived there before the conflict began. And, of course, an unobstructed access between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through the Lachin Corridor," Aliyev concluded.

The so-called Madrid Principles were proposed by co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, France and the United States) in December 2007 in the Spanish capital. They include three important principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act - non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity and right to self-determination.

Readiness for talks

Azerbaijani representatives are ready for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia in Moscow or any place else, according to the country's president. "We are always ready to meet in Moscow or any other place in order to put an end to the standoff and find ways towards a settlement," Aliyev said, when asked whether he was ready to go to Moscow himself to meet with his counterpart through Russia’s mediation.

Baku "is ready for any contacts," the leader assured. "And in this case, I have not received such an invitation, so this question is not for me. Many times personally President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev before him conducted trilateral meetings between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan," he said. "However, after power shifted in Armenia to a Soros-like figure, such contacts have stopped," Aliyev explained.

He said that Russia had always played an important role in the conflict settlement. "There are objective reasons for this - both historical and geographical ones." Another reason is "that for decades, Russia has been active in our region, and the level of interaction is high. That is why, we are ready for any contacts," the head of state stressed.

He reiterated that when an offer came to organize a meeting of the foreign ministers, the Azerbaijani side agreed right away. "This also shows our position, because at that time the Azerbaijani army had already successfully liberated some strategic territories. It had been already more than ten days into the conflict, and it was practically clear to everyone who was capable of what. It was not very difficult to imagine the further course of combat operations. However, in spite of this, we did not stall for time, nor did we refuse. We said: ‘Yes, we are ready’," President Ilham Aliyev emphasized.

Possible arms smuggling 

Baku believes that Russian weapons, which, according to the Azerbaijani authorities are delivered to Armenia, may be smuggled there, while the Russian authorities remain unaware of this, Ilham Aliyev revealed to TASS.

"We have shared with the Russian side our concerns that large amounts of weapons are moved from Russian cities to Armenia during the active phase of the confrontation. We have evidence on that score, we have flight maps and we know the types of weapons. All this was let known to the Russian side," Aliyev said.

He stressed that Baku surmised this hardware might be smuggled to Armenia. "We shared our suspicions with the Russian side that some smuggling schemes might be involved. We find it hard to believe that Russia as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and as a country that is obliged to observe neutrality, just like France and the United States, was arming the Armenian side during the active phase of the conflict," Aliyev said.

"According to our sources, major Russian businessmen of Armenian descent, as well as well-known arms traders who are under international sanctions are behind this. One of the purposes of our message to the Russian side was to ask it to look into the matter. If smuggling is really involved, if Russian weapons are paid for and transported for cash, then there must be a probe into how this is possible," Aliyev said.

He added that Baku had relevant information at its disposal and was prepared to disclose the lists of the supplied items, if need be. "If necessary, we may disclose in the public space the lists of items supplied to Armenia from Russia during this period of time. What aircraft and what air carriers were doing that. Most of the deliveries are illegal," he said.

Allegations of employment of Middle Eastern militants by Azerbaijan 

Azerbaijan has its own efficient army and does not need to involve anyone else in the conflict, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in an interview with TASS when commenting the reports about militants from the Middle East, particularly from Syria and Libya, being shifted to the conflict zone.

Such statements are groundless, President Aliyev noted. "We have asked to provide us with concrete facts, concrete evidence of the fact that we have invited some terrorists. Until now, apart from words, no facts have been provided to us, neither to me as President, nor to heads of our intelligence services, nor to the heads of the defense ministry. Not a single fact. Well, if there are such facts, if such statements are being made, why are we not provided with that? References are being made to some newspaper publications. Anything can be written now," Aliyev said.

Moreover, the President stressed that the Azeri army has demonstrated its effectiveness both on the battlefield and regarding technical equipment. "We have almost eliminated the main military and technical potential of Armenia that was deployed to the occupied territories," he said. "Did terrorists do it? Did they arrive somewhere from Syria? Or today as our army is liberating the territories, where did anyone see these terrorists? Those are our soldiers and officers. We have 100,000 soldiers in the permanent Azeri army, excluding reservists. We have not even announced a mobilization. Why? We do not need that," Aliyev said. Partial mobilization has been announced in Azerbaijan, he said, adding though that reservists are mainly used "to ensure monitoring and control over the liberated territories."

"That is why there is no evidence. There is no necessity. There are only rumors, and gossip. <...> Not a single country is involved in the conflict on our side, there are no terrorists from our side," Aliyev emphasized.

Deployment of peacekeepers to Karabakh

It is not yet time for talks on deploying international peacekeeping forces or so-called monitors to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani president said.

He recalled that this issue was at the very bottom of the list of the basic principles of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement agreed by the OSCE Minsk Group. "Foreign peacekeeping forces were supposed to be deployed when all matters linked with de-occupation are settled. But once key issues requiring regulation have not been settled, the sides have never come to address these matters," he said.

"I am convinced that this issue should be agreed within the format of the [OSCE Minsk Group] co-chairs," the Azerbaijani president went on to say. "After it is agreed, it is to be presented to the parties [to the conflict]. This was envisaged by the basic principles, because it is not up to us to decide whether it will be peacekeepers or, as they are referred to today, monitors. It should be a proposal from the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, whereas Azerbaijan and Armenia can either veto this or that country or accept it."

"But the matter is not whether Azerbaijan accepts it or not," he said. "We need to know the mandate, who the guarantors are, the competences, the location and activities. Are they going to stand on a hill or anywhere in the open watching who is shooting and where at? First, it is dangerous. Second, suppose, as they tell us, they monitor ceasefire violations. Even if they establish who did it, then what? Will these people be brought to account? Will any criminal proceedings be initiated? So, the first thing to do is to agree on a procedure of the implementation of the basic principles."

"If we hear the Armenian side saying, 'yes, we recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, we are committed to the basic principles, we agree to withdraw troops from the occupied territories', then let us discuss the issue of observers. I think it won’t take long to agree that," Aliyev stressed. "However, we have not heard the Armenian side saying it is ready to withdraw troops from the occupied territories. As soon as it happens, the issue of the so-called monitors may be addressed."