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Azerbaijan: President Says Nagorno-Karabakh Key To Caucasus Stability

The president of Azerbaijan, Heidar Aliev, says resolving his country's dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh could help end the conflicts elsewhere in the Caucasus -- Georgia and Chechnya. Aliyev did not say how this would work, and some analysts think it won't work at all. RFE/RL senior correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 12 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Some U.S. analysts believe that Heidar Aliev, the president of Azerbaijan, is trying too hard to win American support in his country's 12-year-old conflict with Armenia.

Aliyev is in Washington to address the fourth annual Conference and Exhibition of the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. The meeting is designed to persuade U.S. businesses to invest in Azerbaijan.

Much of his speech on Monday (Sept. 11), however, focused on the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the enclave within Azerbaijan's borders with a population that is predominantly Armenian.

As he has many times before, Aliyev accused Armenia of occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan, of making more than one million Azeris refugees, and of blockading Azerbaijan's rail access to the west.

And yet, he said, in 1992, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution -- Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act -- that imposes U.S. economic sanctions on Azerbaijan. In his speech, Aliyev complained loudly and forcefully that members of Congress believe -- wrongly -- that Azerbaijan is the aggressor against Armenia, not the other way around.

Aliyev noted that all the Caucasus region has been engulfed in conflict since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He cited the two rebellions in Georgia, and the fighting in the independence-minded Russian republic of Chechnya.

But he said if the Minsk Group -- France, Russia and the U.S. -- pressed harder to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, the other conflicts -- even the war in Chechnya -- could be resolved.

"The key to this regional problem is the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. If this conflict is ended, then the conflict of Abkhazia in Georgia can be ended. And after that, the Chechen conflict in the northern Caucasus could be ended."

Aliyev did not explain how this could happen. But two foreign policy analysts said they could not see how solving one conflict would necessarily affect the others.

Keith Bush is the director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Center of Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. He said simply that the conflicts in Georgia and Chechnya are so locally focused that he cannot imagine any impact from resolving an outside conflict.

Ted Carpenter is the vice president for foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, another Washington think-tank. He agrees with Bush, but makes his case much more bluntly.

Carpenter told RFE/RL that Aliyev is espousing what he calls a "reverse domino theory" -- if one conflict can be resolved, conflicts elsewhere in the region will "magically" follow.

Carpenter says Aliyev is "stretching logic to the breaking point," as he put it.

"I would argue that these disputes and conflicts have fairly local roots, and the solution to one is not going to suddenly spill over and make it easier to solve these other problems."

Carpenter says Aliyev is trying to persuade the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton to help Azerbaijan settle its dispute with Armenia. He says Clinton's senior officials in the State Department are fanatical about regional stability. Therefore, he says, they may be receptive to Aliev's argument.

"He [Aliev] seems to be implying that whatever is good for Azerbaijan is good for the whole region and therefore, by extension, good for the United States of America. But to me, that's very strained logic."

Evidently the U.S. Congress agrees. And there is no evidence yet that it will repeal Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act any time soon.

(Yakub Turan of the Uzbek Service assisted with this article)