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Azerbaijan May Rethink Pro-Western Stance If No Karabakh Support

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April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Azerbaijan may rethink its pro-Western stance and realign with “a new bloc” if it doesn’t get more support, particularly in its conflict with neighboring Armenia, a senior Azeri official said.

The Caspian Sea nation wants Europe and the U.S. to pressure Armenia into pulling out of Azeri districts adjacent to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to Novruz Mammadov, head of the presidential office’s foreign-relations department. The country has also been invited to join another political alliance, he added, without elaborating.

“We aren’t paying attention to those proposals for now. But if it continues like this, we may consider it in five to 10 years,” Mammadov said today in an interview in the capital, Baku. “We’re expecting help from the West on the Karabakh issue.”

The mostly Muslim nation of 9 million people fought a war with Christian Armenia after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. About 30,000 people were killed and 1 million displaced in the conflict, which left Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian region previously under Azeri control, in the hands of Armenia. While hostilities largely ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire in 1994, a peace accord has never been signed.

Azerbaijan is the third-largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia and Kazakhstan, with energy companies including BP Plc, Statoil ASA, Total SA investing more than $35 billion there since 1992. The government has sent troops to join NATO peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and sells oil to Israel, from whom it also buys weapons.

‘Tied its Destiny’

“We’re the only secular Muslim nation in the world that’s tied its destiny with the West,” said Mammadov, who estimates that about 35 percent of all NATO supplies to Afghanistan transit his country. “But we haven’t seen a positive attitude in return.”

While Azerbaijan is also a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which unites some former Soviet nations, its closeness to the West has caused “some tension” in relations with Iran, according to Mammadov.

“Iran’s telling us: Why are you selling your oil to the West? You should sever your relations with the U.S. and Israel because they’re our enemies,” Mammadov said.

He accused some Western media of seeking to stoke tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran after Foreign Policy magazine reported last month that his nation had offered some of its airports to Israel for possible air strikes against Iran, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence agents. Azerbaijan has strongly rejected the report.

Mammadov also complained that Israel broke an agreement to keep the $1.6 billion purchase of Israeli weapons secret.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zulfugar Agayev in Baku at zagayev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hellmuth Tromm at htromm@bloomberg.net

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