By Agnes Szucs
BRUSSELS (AA) - NATO on Tuesday voiced support for diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia
“We support the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia which are both valued partners to NATO," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters following a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Underlining the importance of the security and stability in the South Caucasus for NATO, Stoltenberg said diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict between Baku and Yerevan serve the "peaceful future for all people."
He appreciated that Aliyev would participate in a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hosted by the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, later on Wednesday.
Stoltenberg also praised Azerbaijan and Armenia for being able to end the hostilities last year by agreeing to a cease-fire and pointed out that "dialogue is going on and the normalization is moving in the right direction" since the two leaders would hold talks.
He stressed that the sides would need to avoid actions that could result in a resurgence of violence and that all disputes had to be resolved through diplomatic means.
Relations between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
During a 44-day conflict that started in late September last year, Azerbaijan liberated several cities, 300 settlements, and villages that were illegally occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.
- Russian proposal on missile moratorium
Asked about recent proposition by Russia on introducing a moratorium on intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Stoltenberg said it was "not credible because we had a ban and they violated that ban."
"Unless Russia in a verifiable way destroys all its SSC-8 missiles, which are the ones that violated the INF treaty, it is not credible if they propose a ban on something that they actually have started to deploy," he added.
At the same time, he stressed that NATO did not intend to mirror Russia's actions and deploy nuclear missiles in Europe.
Stoltenberg referred to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987 between the Soviet Union and US which led to the elimination of an entire category of nuclear weapons.
According to NATO, Russia violated the deal by developing and deploying its SSC-8 / 9M729 missile system.
In 2019, the US withdrew from the INF Treaty.