Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Cavanaugh Briefing on Key West Talks on Nagorno-Karabakh

Truman Little White House
Key West, Florida
End of day - April 3, 2001

Date Released:
April 4, 2001
Source: U.S. Department of State

"This is a step on the path towards peace"

Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, head of the U.S. delegation for the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh, gave an on-the-record briefing April 3 in Key West, Florida at the end of the first day of talks.

Cavanaugh described the first day's activities, which opened with a lunch hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had earlier met with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan each separately; in the afternoon there was a formal meeting open to the media and then a private discussion.

He said Secretary Powell emphasized to all involved "the need to be thinking of the future, not the past; that what we are working on here in Key West this week is the future of the children of Armenia and Azerbaijan."

Asked about the prospects for an agreement, Cavanaugh reiterated a point made by Powell earlier in the day: The current talks are not intended to develop a breakthrough agreement this week in Florida. "Peace is a very complex and difficult thing to achieve. This is a step on the path towards peace. Our anticipation would be even if they are very successful here, there are several more steps needed before you could bring peace to this region," Cavanaugh said.

He also declined to provide details of the discussions on the grounds that all parties had agreed on the need to maintain the confidentiality of the details of their talks.

The Nagorno-Karabakh talks are sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which in 1992 formed the Minsk Group of a dozen OSCE member states to spearhead the effort to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The Minsk Group is co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France, which are represented at the Key West talks by Ambassadors Cavanaugh, Nikolai Gribkov, and Jean-Jacques Gaillarde, respectively.

Following is the State Department transcript of the briefing:



April 3, 2001
Key West, Florida

MR. REEKER: Welcome to the Key West media center. We're just going to have a little bit of a wrap-up on today's events with Secretary Powell here today. First, a couple of notes. The media center will open tomorrow at 9:00 a.m., and sometime during the morning we'll try to have an idea for you of what meetings were planned during the day. And then we'll endeavor each afternoon or evening to have some kind of a briefing here to give you a little idea of what has transpired during the day in the process of these peace talks.

There are copies of the transcripts of Secretary Powell's news conference available here, and we'll have other materials available. If we could ask each of you at some point before you leave tonight to leave your phone number, a local contact, either a cell phone or a hotel phone number, so we can reach you here in Key West if necessary, that would be terrific for us as we try to help you cover these peace talks.

I am very pleased this evening to have with us Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, who is the head of the US delegation for the peace talks here in Key West, and he'll be able to give you a little wrap-up on the end of today and then take your questions this evening.


AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Let me say a few things just in general about what's been going on here. I'm going to address some questions others have raised with me.

A few people noted that today was the formal opening, which it was, but asked if in fact any talks had taken place before that. They have. There have been delegations here since Saturday of Americans, French and Russians have that have been meeting. The presidents arrived, one of them on Sunday, the president of Azerbaijan. The president of Armenia arrived on Monday. There have been informal preparations and talks between all those delegations and some meetings with those presidents before the formal opening today.

But in fact today was the formal start of the talks. Secretary Powell opened those with a lunch today at about 12:30. He had meetings before that with each of the presidents separately to talk both about bilateral concerns, but also the principal thrust was what we hope could be achieved here, where we hope the parties could go in working together and with the Minsk Group co-chairs to advance peace in the region.

After the lunch, I know a lot of the media saw they had a very nice and relaxed about 20-minute period in the garden where the presidents were talking to the delegation heads. Secretary Powell spent a fair amount of time with Azerbaijan President Aliyev. I think it was good both for the atmosphere of the talks and also to help establish a personal relationship between the presidents and the leaders of the delegations here.

After that, they had a very good formal meeting where they brought the two presidents, Secretary Powell, and the three co-chair delegations together that began with formal statements, which were covered by the media, and then moved into a private discussion, the focus of which was very much the agenda we have this week.

The emphasis Secretary Powell put on that was the need to be thinking of the future, not the past; that what we are working on here in Key West this week is the future of the children of Armenia and Azerbaijan. How do you work to find peace to give them the lives they need and they deserve in a region which has been torn by war, which has suffered severe economic hardship because of the inability to reestablish stability and normalcy in this region, and take advantage of all the economic prosperity this new century has to offer?

Secretary Powell left at about 3:30. There were some brief meetings after that with the two presidents. The two presidents have now also left the Little White House and they will now move today and tomorrow into a format of talks that is more typically called "proximity talks." So there were several meetings today where the two presidents were brought together. What is likely for tonight and tomorrow will be continued meetings either with individual delegations or all three co-chair delegations, where you see one president and then at another time another, but not too much bringing the two of them together.

I think that gives you an overview of today with some detail and some idea of what is coming next, and I will be pleased to take your questions.

One question about the procedure. Are they now not meeting in the Little White House from now on, or -

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: They will meet there I think frequently, but not always. The nice thing about this city is it affords lots of opportunities and different ways to meet in different environments. And we saw today in fact, we had meetings at a formal dinner table, we had meetings at Harry Truman's poker table, which had also been used by Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower, we had meetings in the garden, we had some sort of meetings off in different corners of the Truman White House itself. There was one brief one on the south porch. There was another in one of the upstairs rooms.

So the facility itself offers lots of different things, as does the city. But I wouldn't specifically say when or where in the city they might have meetings. Obviously you can have meetings in hotel rooms and in restaurants.

I would also like to ask about the statements that the two presidents made. Aliyev's was very long, and Kocharian's was sort of directly almost referring to Aliyev's and saying I'm not here to make propaganda statements. Do you think that that exchange kind of bodes ill for these talks at all?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: No, I don't. I think both men have different concerns coming into these talks. They have different expectations from their publics. They obviously want to make sure they communicate the messages that they feel they need to back home, but they also are communicating messages at the table to the other party.

Nothing happened today that I would say surprised any of the negotiating teams. It is a normal beginning for this kind of negotiation.

The speaker of the parliament said today that these two presidents got together at least 15 times in two years.


What do you think this meeting, these peace talks, will bring to them, so you are - or the Minsk Group co-chairs are expecting something will come out? Is that ending in the making so there will be a precedent to grab, and then come to a conclusion or solution, or pressure the possible way to reach a solution?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: Some of this has been gone over before, but I'll gladly do a bit on it again.

For a while, the Minsk Group made proposals to the parties. They made three of them. At any given time, one or more rejected those proposals. This peace process had moved into a different track, characterized by direct meetings between the two presidents, and still meetings and engagement of the Minsk Group co-chairs. For two years now, as you said, they have been meeting about 15 times, all around the globe - Davos, Geneva, New York, Washington, Moscow, Yalta, on their border. What they have been doing is exploring ways to advance peace in their countries. What the Minsk Group co-chairs have been doing during those two years is working with them on ways to help them do that.

That took a different shift in January and in March, in two meetings in Paris where, in addition to meeting together, the two presidents met also with French President Jacques Chirac. There was some progress in those meetings. We felt the co-chairs felt sufficient progress to invite them to the United States; that there was a potential that they could continue to build on that dialogue and possibly find ways in which to move ahead.

Not only did the co-chairs think that was the case, so did the presidents. It was clear to us they would not have accepted an invitation to come here if they in fact didn't see potential for advancement. And I think the comments that they made today and before they left their countries en route here made clear in fact that both see the potential to try to move forward here.

Secretary Powell made clear in his statement - and I will repeat here - this was not and is not intended to be a conclusion of the process here in Florida. Peace is a very complex and difficult thing to achieve. This is a step on the path towards peace. Our anticipation would be even if they are very successful here, there are several more steps needed before you could bring peace to this region.

My question is about the new proposals. Everything is talking about a new plan, and today the Secretary of State said it's not a good idea - let's call them the new ideas.

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: Well, I think his answer was more sophisticated than that, and he said it wasn't good to talk about old proposal or new proposals; that what was clear is that there can be new ideas under discussion and exploration of new ways that might be possible to help resolve the differences between these two countries. It's obvious in a dialogue like this, because there's been a dialogue for two years, people would be stunned at the concept there weren't new ideas or new discussions being addressed. Why would the presidents want to continue meeting one another if they were not? The same could be said for the co-chairs. Why would we come here and say, oh, no, we only want to talk about the old ideas?

I think it's clear that obviously in the process of searching for a solution that could bring peace to the South Caucasus there needs to be creativity, flexibility, new concepts. And these are things the presidents have been looking at and the co-chairs have been looking at. And what you see here in Key West this week is those two coming together in probably the most concrete fashion that they could: three significant negotiating teams from Moscow, Paris and Washington meeting directly with both presidents for several days to be able to see what can be achieved when you bring all of that to a focal point.

Actually, I was going to ask what do you think how close the sides in narrowing their differences and their points of view. But as you told it, the proximity meetings haven't started yet, I don't think I will get a proper answer to this question. What is your feeling?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: I don't think it's a question that normally can be easily answered -- how close are they. I think there is a natural rhythm to negotiations. Often when you get close, the points that remain are the most difficult points. That tends to be understood. Also, when you get close, the parties realize there is a potential for an agreement. That also makes people become less flexible, is the diplomatic term, in their positions.

I don't think it's valuable to characterize close or not, but what's clear is that the process is moving forward and has been moving forward for several months this year.

Secretary Powell noted that the US will - to expect all we can, he told us, in this process to move the process forward. And my question is, what is the US' next step what it's going to take into consideration that 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory is under occupation. I mean, is this fact will play any role in the negotiations?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: I think it would be premature to ask what the US' next step is when we just started today a very significant step that will continue for the rest of the week. It's clear the United States has put a lot of resources behind this effort that is under way in Key West today, and it is clear that Russia and France have as well.

As we have emphasized, this is a common effort of all three states working together to try to bring peace to this region. It is a significant effort, and as I think Secretary Powell highlighted very clearly, the United States is prepared to do what it can to help these leaders in pursuit of peace.

The principal thing remains that the leaders themselves have to be key people, figures in moving that peace forward. It has always been clear, and will remain so, there can be no imposed peace. The only way you can have peace is if the leaders of these countries and the people of these countries can embrace an agreement that is mutually acceptable to both sides. If they are able to find that or approach that or work on that, the United States, Russia and France are prepared to help them do that.

Ambassador, can you give us an idea of some of the specific issues that were discussed over the course of the day - not who said what or what the parameters were, but just a rough idea of the ballpark issues that were spoken about?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: I'll give you only details on one, and the one is the stressing by all parties of the need to maintain the confidentiality of the details of their discussions. (Laughter.) And it came up more than once today.

More broadly, how is the agenda being set here? Is this very freewheeling? Are the negotiators saying, why don't we cover these areas tomorrow and these areas the next day? How is the structure working?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: I actually wouldn't care to get into that right now, but we have fairly intense discussions among the three teams and with the presidents on how best to move it forward. So there is a structure to it.

Azerbaijan News Agency (inaudible). In his opening statement, President Aliyev sharply criticized the activity of OSCE Minsk Group (inaudible). My question is, what is your response to that when somebody said that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs holding and waiting, and they have passive position, and they said they reduce the activities to the principle: Whatever the presidents agree upon, we will accept for the OSCE. What is your response to the criticism of Azeri president of your activity?

And the second question, in these papers given to us, it is advertised that co-chairs recognize that Nagorno-Karabakh approach must be included in the process, and the use of the population were taken into account. Can you elaborate on that?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: Sure, there are several questions, but let me try to tackle part of that.

First, I took his statement as a sign of frustration that he and others have felt that this conflict has lasted as long as it has. The OSCE established - in fact, the CSCE at the time established the Minsk Group in 1992, nine years ago. It is understandable there is frustration that a peaceful solution has not been found to this problem.

At the same time, if you were to try to hold that up to a global peacekeeping standard, you would find many other conflicts that have far exceeded that in longevity, even though very strident efforts have been made to address them. Indeed, the Minsk Group co-chairs or the Minsk Group itself have made several proposals to try to solve this problem. He enumerated them himself, three that were not accepted by the parties.

We also made clear that we thought it was almost impossible to arrive at a workable solution if we did not have a better indication from the leadership of the two countries of what might be possible. What we have done and what we have hoped for is that with the direct dialogue that was established between the two presidents, there would be a greater indication of what could work. And I think what you see here today is a sign that there is a greater indication from their discussion, and we are trying to build upon those discussions in the forum that we have started today here in Key West, Florida.

Your second question on Nagorno-Karabakh, all three co-chairs have made clear repeatedly that when we travel to the region we meet with Nagorno-Karabakh local authorities; that the Armenian Government also communicates in detail with those authorities about the discussions we have with them, and we believe also the discussions they have with Azerbaijan, and they are kept appraised of what is going on. The Minsk Group co-chairs are informed of their concerns and responses to their concerns.

They are not here this week in Florida. This effort this week in Florida is building upon the direct dialogue between the two presidents. There can come a point in the future where their inclusion would be beneficial, and obviously the co-chairs would weigh that and, if they thought it would be helpful, would look at how to do that.

Have you or the State Department or the US side, as the host of these talks, prepared any special, I would say amusement program, for the two presidents to give them an opportunity to have a rest and just to relax maybe a little bit after the talks during the course of the negotiation?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: In terms of relaxation, I would say I think it is very easy to relax in Key West. You can sit in a room and look out the window at the peaceful, tranquil sea and beautiful islands and boats sailing by. But I would also add, indeed we have looked at some ways in which we could provide the presidents with a chance to get a feel for the island and a feel for some of what it has to offer, and we will try in the course of this week to make sure that at least once they get out into the city and they are able to do something fun.

Two questions. The first question is, I would like to ask you about the role and the level of cooperation of co-chairs.

And the second question is, I assume that the presidents are supposed to stay here till Friday. If they leave earlier or later, how can we read that?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: Let me do the second question first. As good journalists, you would know you could read that in either direction: they were so successful their work was done and they could leave early; they were so successful they needed more time for their work, so they stayed longer. I think it is impossible to answer a question like that.

I think the expectation is in fact both presidents will be here till Saturday morning, so they are here a little longer than you had said. But I wouldn't try to gauge it particularly on when things begin or end. It is obvious, or should be obvious, that the negotiators that are here have some benchmarks of what we would like to see if forward motion can be achieved, but I think we would be pleased at any progress that can be made. And our hope is on the basis of the discussions that already started today that there is a serious potential to make some progress.

And the role?

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: The role of the co-chairs? Since the Minsk Group was created, the role of the Minsk Group is to assist the parties in helping find a solution to the conflict in this region, and we are playing that role, I believe, effectively.

The level of cooperation between the three is very high. I would say the intensity of that cooperation has jumped in the past three months, and you could see that with the change in the format from simply direct dialogue between the two presidents, to the inclusion of French President Jacques Chirac. You can see that by virtue of the communications between President Chirac and President Bush, between President Bush and President Putin, and President Putin and President Chirac - not to leave any presidents out. And those communications are mirrored at the level of foreign ministers, and they are yet again mirrored again at the level of national security advisors. They are mirrored again at the level of their Minsk Group representatives.

I was wondering if there are specific tasks that co-chairs are assigned to, or they are just cooperating on the broad and whole sphere of whatever is tackled by the -

AMBASSADOR CAVANAUGH: I mean, in terms of the tasks given to the co-chairs by OSCE is to work on how to resolve the conflict. How we internally divide those tasks up is dependent on our own decisions.

MR. REEKER: Okay, then thank you very much. We will look forward to seeing you all back here tomorrow.


(end State Department transcript)

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