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U.S. Reaches Out To Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (right) meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Baku on June 6.
U.S. President Barack Obama promised Azerbaijan in a letter released today that Washington will treat its dispute with Armenia as a top priority.

Azerbaijan is an important link in Afghan supply lines and energy export routes to the West.

In April, Azerbaijan accused the United States of siding with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave populated mainly by ethnic Armenians that broke away from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, prompting a civil war that left some 30,000 dead. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1994.

In a copy of the letter provided to journalists, Obama wrote that a peaceful resolution of the dispute is vital for the stability of the South Caucasus.

"Support for this outcome will remain a priority for the United States," it said.

Obama acknowledged "serious issues" in U.S. relations with Azerbaijan, but said "I am confident that we can address them."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hand-delivered Obama's letter to President Ilham Aliyev on June 6.

In the letter, Obama praises Azerbaijan for sending military personnel to serve in Afghanistan and opening its land and air space to help resupply U.S. and NATO forces there.

Gates told reporters today that he and Azerbaijan's leadership had discussed ways to expand military-to-military relations, including exercises and intelligence sharing.

compiled from agency reports