NATO Chief navigates stormy Caucasian waters.Anders Fogh Rassmusen visits region at a time of heightened tensions and political controversy.
07 September 2012

The Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rassmusen has been in the South Caucasus over the last two days, making short visits to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The visit of the Head of NATO to the region sends a signal of continued committment by the Atlantic alliance to develop relations with the three republics, once part of the arch enemy - the USSR. All three countries have a relationship with NATO through the Partnership for Peace Programme, whilst Georgia is seeking full membership of the alliance.

The visit took place despite heightened tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan and a few weeks before a hardly fought election campaign in Georgia.

Speaking at the Azerbaijani Diplomatic Academy in Baku this morning Rasmussen said:

"...... this region still faces great security challenges. Azerbaijan has a complicated neighbourhood. And the most pressing regional challenge remains finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Two things are clear. First, that there is no military solution. And second, the only way forward is through dialogue, compromise, and cooperation.

As I said in Yerevan yesterday, NATO as an organisation is not involved directly in finding a solution to this conflict. Nor do we take sides. But we will continue to support the Minsk Process and efforts towards a peaceful settlement.

As I also said in Yerevan yesterday, I am deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani decision to pardon Ramil Safarov. The act he committed in 2004 was a crime which should not be glorified, as this damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process. There must be no return to conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Tensions in this region must be reduced, and concrete steps must be taken to promote regional cooperation and reconciliation."

Rasmussen was greeted by demonstrators shouting "justice" when he arrived yesterday to speak at Yerevan State University. He later met with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. At a press conference afterwards Sargsyan reiterated the condemnation of the Armenian government of Hungary's decision to return Safarov to Azerbaijani jurisdiction.

Whilst neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan seek NATO membership both countries are keen to keep a good relationship with the alliance.

Meanwhile Azerbaijani media is reporting that Ramil Safarov is in an unknown location for his own safety.