Clinton discusses Armenia dispute


US secretary of state Hillary Clinton today tried to mend fences with Azerbaijan and to promote a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and also pressed the authoritarian, oil-rich country on human rights.

A US-backed push for a rapprochement between Armenia and US ally Turkey has hurt US relations with Azerbaijan, which worries that its interests will be suffer as a result.

Baku in April accused the US of siding with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region which seceded from Azerbaijan and proclaimed independence after a war in the 1990s that killed some 30,000.

As a result of the strains in the relationship, including the absence of a US ambassador for more than a year, Baku threatened to "reconsider" its ties with the United States.

Strategically located between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has been a key supply route for US troops in Afghanistan but ties have been frayed by multiple issues.

While seeking to improve relations and make some headway on Nagorno-Karabakh, Ms Clinton also pressed authoritarian Azerbaijan to show greater respect for civil liberties and said she had raised the case of two jailed opposition bloggers.

Hosting Ms Clinton at his palatial summer residence on the Caspian Sea, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev made clear that his priority was Nagorno-Karabakh.

"This is a major problem for us and the major threat to regional security," president Aliyev told Clinton as they sat beneath a chandelier in an airy, high-ceilinged room overlooking the sea.

"We want to find a resolution as soon as possible," he added "Our people are suffering." Ms Clinton said the United States was committed to its ties with Azerbaijan. "The issues that you mention are of importance to us," she said.

Azerbaijan wants Nagorno-Karabakh back, if necessary by force. More than 15 years of mediation have failed to produce a final peace deal and the threat of war is never far away.