Azerbaijan warned Turkey and Armenia yesterday that they should only normalize relations if Armenian troops were withdrawn at the same time from a disputed enclave inside Azerbaijan, reported Reuters.
Azerbaijan said Turkey and Armenia risked raising tensions in the region if they went ahead with plans to normalize their relations before the dispute over the Armenian-backed enclave Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan was solved.
Turkey and Armenia announced late Wednesday that they had agreed on a framework for normalizing relations, the first of its kind since Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in protest of the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Following the announcement, Azerbaijan urged its close ally Turkey to link reconciliation efforts with Armenia to the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the disputed region.
Leading the tension
Baku has long insisted that any deal should be contingent on Armenian concessions in the dispute over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which separate from Baku control during a war in the early 1990s.
"Every country has the right to establish bilateral relations with other countries," Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov told the AFP. "We believe, however, that the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations must proceed within the context of the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Azerbaijan's occupied territories," he said.
"We hope that the process which has begun between Turkey and Armenia will continue in the framework of statements that were made at the highest level in Turkey.
"The opening of the Armenian-Turkish border cannot take place without a process to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Opening the border could lead to tensions in the region and would be contradictory to the interests of Azerbaijan," Polukhov said.
He said it was "too early" to discuss what steps Azerbaijan might take in retaliation.
Azerbaijan, a supplier of oil and gas to the West, fears losing its leverage over Armenia in the dispute if Turkey reopens the border with Armenia and restores full diplomatic relations. Officials have hinted that energy-rich Azerbaijan would consider cutting gas supplies to Turkey if Ankara ignored the Karabakh issue in its talks with Armenia.
Fear of West
Azerbaijan is Europe's key hope for supplying gas for the proposed Nabucco pipeline that would run through Turkey and reduce Europe's energy dependence on Russia. Diplomats fear Baku could reject European overtures and instead sell the gas from phase two of its Shah Deniz field Ğ due to come online by 2014 Ğ to Russia for re-export.
"If Azerbaijan feels that Turkey is betraying them, then why would Azerbaijan not move in a Russian direction? And the Russians are offering to buy all their gas at European prices," Svante Cornell, research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, said.
Last month, Azerbaijani state energy firm Socar signed a memorandum with Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom on starting talks on Russia buying Azerbaijani gas from 2010 for export to Europe.