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U.S. Diplomat Sees Azerbaijan Elections As Democratic Test

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has called on the government of Azerbaijan to demonstrate its commitment to democracy during the presidential election scheduled for October 15.

During a visit to the capital, Baku, Negroponte said the United States recognizes Azerbaijan's efforts to enact democratic reforms. "There has been considerable progress on the path toward democracy by this country," Negroponte said. "We certainly see the 15th of October as an opportunity for the conduct of elections that will be perceived by the people of Azerbaijan and by the international community as fair and free."

Negroponte mentioned, however, the repeated detentions of journalists in Azerbaijan, which rights groups have called the "leading jailor of journalists in Europe." Negroponte said such restrictions on the freedom of the press mar Azerbaijan's democratic progress.

Negroponte also affirmed the United States' commitment to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict over Azerbaijan's Armenian-backed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. "We are committed to achieving a negotiated solution to the conflict that starts with the principal of territorial integrity and takes into account other international principles," Negroponte said. "A resolution to the conflict will enhance peace and stability in the region, and Azerbaijan's security as well."

Negroponte drew a parallel between Azerbaijan's frozen conflict and the August fighting that broke out over Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. "Two months ago we saw the conflicts in the region are anything but frozen," Negroponte said. "We and our European partners have made clear that we support the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Georgia, as well as Azerbaijan and Armenia."

The deputy secretary of state also underlined Azerbaijan's contributions to coalition missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said he had discussed Baku's continued participation in those missions with President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.

Meanwhile on October 2, Azerbaijani lawmakers voted to nearly double the number of Azerbaijani troops serving with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, from 46 to 90.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report
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