Top US general in Azerbaijan for military cooperation talks
BAKU (AFP) Jun 10, 2004
The second most senior US general in Europe has visited the oil-rich former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan for talks on expanding military cooperation between the two countries.

General Charles F. Wald, Deputy Commander of US European Command, was on his third visit to Azerbaijan in six months and met with President Ilham Aliyev and Defence Minister Safar Abbiyev.

Details of the talks were sketchy, but US commanders have previously said they want to start a major training programme for the Azeri military and possibly use facilities in Azerbaijan as temporary bases for US forces.

The Pentagon has said it wants to improve Azerbaijan's ability to protect its Caspian Sea oil fields -- some of which are claimed by neighbouring Iran -- and guard a US-backed pipeline to export crude to western markets.

"In the future we will continue our cooperation," the private ATV television station quoted Wald as saying at his meeting with the Azeri leader. "For us Azerbaijan is the most important country in the region."

"Ensuring security in the Caspian and the pipeline is for us a pressing issue," the US general added.

Oil is one of the main reasons for the Pentagon's interest in Azerbaijan. A pipeline is under construction which will export up to one million barrels of crude a day from Azerbaijan's Caspian coast to the Mediterranean.

The US is keen to see oil flowing from the Caspian. It sees the region as an alternative source of fuel to the politically turbulent Middle East.