Azerbaijan is seriously preparing for war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh, the country's defense minister told international peace mediators Feb. 11.
"Azerbaijan is seriously preparing to liberate its territories," Defense Minister Safar Abiyev said in comments published by the ministry's news service.
This is not the first occasion that a top Azerbaijani official has used tough rhetoric over a possible conflict.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if peace talks do not yield results, while Armenia has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches military action.
Abiyev said that Armenia must end what he called its "occupation policy" in Karabakh, where ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s that left about 30,000 dead.
"Only in this context is a peaceful settlement of the conflict possible," Abiyev said.
Abiyev was speaking to peace mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Karabakh dispute have continued for more than a decade.
Abiyev said that Azerbaijan had not yet given up hope that the mediators' efforts could succeed, despite the lack of progress so far.
A leading think tank warned this week that increased spending on weapons, escalating frontline clashes, war-like rhetoric and a virtual breakdown in peace talks were increasing the chances of renewed military action over Karabakh.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said that exchanges of fire across the ceasefire line could spiral out of control, threatening regional stability and Western energy interests in the region