YEREVAN -- Armenia has threatened to formally recognize the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state if Baku tries to use force to win back the disputed enclave and other Armenian-controlled territories near it, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
President Serzh Sarkisian issued the warning as he hit back at his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, during the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Addressing the summit on December 1, Aliyev said Armenia was dragging out the Karabakh negotiating process mediated by the United States, Russia, and France.
He also accused the Armenians of committing "war crimes and a genocide" against Karabakh's Azerbaijani population during the 1991-94 war.
In a speech on December 2, Sarkisian insisted that it was Azerbaijan that unleashed a "policy of ethnic cleansing and full-fledged military aggression" against the Karabakh Armenians in 1992.
He said Baku had "no interest in the resolution of the Karabakh problem" and denounced Aliyev's regular threats of a military solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
"If Azerbaijan resorts to military aggression, Armenia would not have any other choice but to recognize the [self-declared] Nagorno-Karabakh republic de jure and to invest all its capabilities into ensuring the security of the people [living there]," Sarkisian said.
"Nagorno-Karabakh has no future within Azerbaijan and, whatever the solution, it should emanate from the will of the people of Karabakh," he said.
The bitter exchange between the two presidents underscored the apparent failure of the latest Russian-led international push for a Karabakh settlement. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hoped the conflicting parties would reach a framework peace agreement during the summit.
Contrary to expectations, Aliyev and Sarkisian did not meet at Astana. They only signed a joint statement with Medvedev, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the parties would make "more decisive efforts" to achieve a peaceful settlement of the dispute.