NATO chief tells Turkey to help calm Karabakh conflict

NATO chief tells Turkey to help calm Karabakh conflict

An Azeri protester waves Azerbaijani and Turkish national flags in a demonstration in Istanbul on Sunday
An Azeri protester waves Azerbaijani and Turkish national flags in a demonstration in Istanbul on Sunday

ANKARA - The head of NATO said Monday he expected Turkey -- a key ally of Azerbaijan -- to use its "considerable" influence to calm the conflict in the Armenian separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's comments in Ankara came as fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian separatist forces entered its second week with at least 260 people killed.

"We are deeply concerned by the escalation of hostilities. All sides should immediately cease fighting and find a way forward towards a peaceful resolution," Stoltenberg said after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

"And I expect Turkey to use its considerable influence to calm tensions."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged fellow Muslim Azerbaijan to press on with its campaign until it takes back lands it lost in an early 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives as the Soviet Union fell apart.

Cavusoglu said NATO should approach the escalation "in a balanced fashion".

"Everyone, particularly NATO, should call on Armenia to withdraw," Cavusoglu said.

Nagorno-Karabakh is viewed as part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations and was never recognised as an independent state by Armenia.

But Yerevan fully supports the region and has historically hostile relations with Azerbaijan.

- Mediterranean dispute -

Stoltenberg's visit to Turkey came during a new spell of tensions with its strategically vital member states.

Turkey contributes one of the largest forces to the Western military alliance and plays a crucial role in Libya and the Middle East.

But Turkey's hunt for natural gas in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean has resulted in staging rival war games with fellow NATO member Greece.

The conflict began to ease when the two agreed last month to resume direct negotiations for the first time since 2016. No date for the Istanbul talks has been announced.

Turkey also pulled back a drilling ship from contested waters around Cyprus after the European Union on Friday threatened to sanction Ankara.

The European Union said the Yavuz vessel's return to a Turkish port on Monday "constitutes another welcome step towards de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean".

The Turkish energy ministry said the ship was undergoing maintenance and refuelling in preparation for "drilling activities in a new location".

Stoltenberg meanwhile welcomed an agreement by Athens and Ankara last week to set up a military hotline to head off accidental clashes.

"The de-confliction mechanism can help create the space for diplomatic efforts," the NATO chief said.

Stoltenberg is due to meet Erdogan in Ankara later Monday and travel to Athens on Tuesday for talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

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