US asks Armenia, Azerbaijan to implement deal
The United States on Thursday threw its support behind a Russian-brokered prisoner swap between Armenia and Azerbaijan and urged the rival nations to implement the deal quickly.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Wednesday with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia and announced the deal to exchange prisoners along with war dead from their conflict over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region.
"We appreciate President Medvedev's personal efforts to reach this agreement, which aims to build confidence between the parties and to strengthen the 1994 ceasefire," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
"We look forward to seeing its implementation as soon as possible," he told reporters.
The United States, France and Russia are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, which has been heading international efforts to reach a permanent resolution to the conflict.
"This joint statement represents a positive development in the ongoing OSCE Minsk Group process to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict of Nagorny Karabakh," Crowley said.
More than 30,000 people died in the conflict in the early 1990s when ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan broke from Azerbaijani control.
The United States has been spearheading efforts to broker a normalization of long tense relations between Armenia and Turkey, leading Azerbaijan to appeal for greater US interest in its concerns.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates both paid visits in recent months to Azerbaijan, a crucial provider and transit hub for oil and gas.
© 2010 AFP