During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Armenia, Azerbaijan Leaders to Meet with Bush After Step Toward Peace
By Steve Gutterman

The Associated Press

April 6, 2001

Dateline: Key West, Florida

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet with President Bush on Monday after "very fruitful" negotiations on a settlement of their conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a U.S. official said.

"This has been a bold and significant step forward," Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, the chief U.S. negotiator at four days of peace talks, said Friday. The talks were mediated by diplomats from the United States, Russia and France.

The diplomats are preparing a proposal for a final settlement of the 13-year-old dispute, which has dragged on since a 1994 cease-fire ended fighting that killed more than 30,000 people and drove a million from their homes.

On Monday, Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian are scheduled to meet separately with Bush, who will show his support for their efforts and "talk about opportunities to advance peace," Cavanaugh said.

No deal will be signed in Washington, and the diplomats did not reveal any details of the discussions or of plans for the peace proposal. They will probably meet again with Aliev and Kocharian in Geneva in June, Cavanaugh said.

Russia, France and the United States are the leaders of a subgroup of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that has been seeking to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for nine years.

"We are much closer to peace than we were before this conference," said the top French negotiator, Ambassador Jean-Jacques Gaillarde. However, he added, "There is still a lot of work to do before we have a peace agreement."

Secretary of State Colin Powell opened the talks Tuesday, calling for "mutual compromise" to settle a dispute that has hobbled economic development in Armenia and Azerbaijan and sown chaos in the volatile region squeezed between Russia, Turkey and Iran, where the United States wants to see stability.

The fighting started in 1988 after the mostly ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh moved to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. Despite the cease-fire, about 200 people die every year in violence related to the conflict, and many thousands live in dormitories, mud huts and other temporary housing.

The cease-fire left Nagorno-Karabakh and some surrounding territory - about one-fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan - firmly in the hands of the ethnic Armenians, who have declared its independence.

Among the key issues in the peace process are the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is not recognized as a sovereign state, as well as the future of the surrounding territories and the return of the displaced people. Any potential settlement deal is likely to draw fierce criticism from opposition groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan that do not want to compromise.

Most of the negotiations in Key West were "proximity talks" in which negotiators from the three countries have met separately with each president. The two have met together more than 15 times in the last two years.

Kocharian's spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, said the Key West talks brought "a further narrowing of differences" between the positions of the bitter neighbors.

"Of course, it's not the end of the road," he said.

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