Armenian Caucus Co-chairs Object to Azerbaijani Decision to Bar Armenian Military from NATO Event
Washington, D.C. --- U.S. Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, today criticized the Azerbaijani government for barring Armenian military officers from participating in a planning conference held several weeks ago in Azerbaijan in preparation for multi national drills to be held there this summer. The two lawmakers also sent a letter today to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Europe Supreme Allied Commander General James L. Jones requesting, in light of this action, that NATO move the conference to a new host country.
Earlier this month, the Armenian military officials bound for the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) Cooperative Best Effort (CBE) 2004 preparatory conference in Baku, Azerbaijan were denied entry visas and prevented from boarding a plane. With the encouragement of NATO officials, they then flew from Georgia to Turkey with the intention of proceeding to Azerbaijan, but were still denied entry.
"If Azerbaijan refuses to fulfill its responsibility as host, then NATO should consider moving the exercises to another host country willing to do so," Knollenberg and Pallone wrote in the letter to Secretary General Scheffer and General Jones. "We remain hopeful that NATO will remain committed to the principle of regional cooperation by taking the appropriate steps to rectify this situation.
"Efforts to reinforce stability and reduce the risk of conflict are in the best interests of the South Caucasus and an oft-stated goal of NATO," the lawmakers continued. "We question whether Azerbaijan, an aspirant to NATO, will work towards strengthening regional cooperation between the Organization and Partner countries should it become a Member."
Azerbaijan has openly lobbied to exclude Armenia from the 2004 exercises. However, in recent weeks, NATO, and even Azerbaijani officials have confirmed that Azerbaijan cannot deny Armenias right to participate.
The NATO PfP program was created in 1994 to help partner countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and 24 others, to enhance defense cooperation, reinforce stability and reduce the risk of conflict. Armenia is an active participant of the PfP program and hosted CBE 2003, which were the first military exercises in Armenia that involved Turkish and Russian military forces. Azerbaijan was invited to the CBE 2003 exercises, but chose not to participate.