YEREVAN (AFP, ArmeniaNow) — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she was “very concerned” by escalating tensions over Nagorno Karabagh and warned Armenia and Azerbaijan not to settle their conflict by force.
Clinton was speaking in Yerevan after Armenia said Azerbaijani troops killed three Armenian soldiers during an alleged incursion, in the latest bloodshed in the long conflict over the Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani enclave.
“While I have only just learned about these incidents, I am very concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians,” she said.
“The use of force will not resolve the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and therefore force must not be used,” she said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.
US officials say better relations with Turkey could help Armenia’s struggling economy, which suffered a 15-percent drop in gross domestic product during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
Clinton, who met with President Serge Sargisian, also planned to use her visit to stress the importance of rule of law, transparency and fair elections after recent parliamentary polls and presidential elections due in 2013.
Parliamentary elections last month drew charges of vote buying, but Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors said the process was improved over elections in 2008.
“We are pleased to see Armenia continue to work to strengthen your democratic institutions, to promote transparency, advance the rights of a free press, root out corruption, respect universal rights and freedoms,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Nalbandian, as quoted by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“I was very pleased at the reports from international monitors about Armenia’s parliamentary elections last month being generally competitive and inclusive, where candidates were able to campaign for the most part without interference,” she said. “There were some electoral problems that were identified, and we hope that Armenia will work with the OSCE and others to ensure that the next election is even better.”
The short trip was the opening leg of Clinton’s second tour of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in two years.
Clinton also commended the Armenian government’s efforts to improve the domestic business environment and in a further boost to Sargisian’s international standing, again endorsed official Yerevan’s view that Turkey should stop linking parliamentary ratification of the US-brokered normalization agreements signed with Armenia in 2009 to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.
“We strongly support ratification of the Turkey-Armenia protocols without preconditions,” she said. “We commend Armenia and President Sargisian for the leadership they have shown on this issue.”
“As I said when I was here two years ago, the ball remains in Turkey’s court,” she stressed.
In Azerbaijan, highlighting the energy interests of the United States, which has invested $8 billion in the country since independence in 1991, Clinton will visit an oil and gas trade exposition in Baku.