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Azerbaijan Says Karabakh Talks Last Chance For Deal

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Moldova last month.
BAKU (Reuters) -- Azerbaijan said upcoming talks with Armenia on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be "decisive" and warned that its troops were ready to use force to take back the rebel region if they fail, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said.

Aliyev meets his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian on November 22 in Munich for the latest in a string of meetings this year on the Armenian-populated mountain region, which broke away from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s.

"That meeting must play a decisive role in the process of negotiations," Aliyev said late on November 20, in comments broadcast by state television today.

"If that meeting ends without result, then our hopes in negotiations will be exhausted and then we are left with no other option," he said, saying Azerbaijan had the right to use force to take back the mountain region.

"Azerbaijan is spending billions on buying new weapons, hardware, strengthening its position on the line of contact," he said at a meeting with Azerbaijani refugees from the conflict.

"We are doing that because we never excluded and we do not exclude that option. We have the full right to liberate our land by military means."

Aliyev frequently threatens force to take back the territory, at the heart of a key transit region for oil and gas to the West. But analysts doubt the readiness of oil-producing Azerbaijan to go to war.

Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, backed by Armenia, threw off Azeri rule in fighting that erupted as the Soviet Union headed towards its 1991 collapse. The Armenians took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azeri districts before a cease-fire was declared in 1994.

Some 30,000 people died and more than 1 million were made homeless.

The conflict has been thrust back into the diplomatic spotlight by an historic rapprochement this year between Armenia and Azerbaijan' ally Turkey, which closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the war.

Ankara says it will only ratify accords with Yerevan, opening the border and establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia, if it sees progress in the talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.