During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Two Sides Will Meet President

by Jennifer Babson

Published: Miami Herald, April 7, 2001

KEY WEST - After spending the week in Margaritaville, the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia are preparing to leave Truman's balmy Little White House behind for the real thing.

In a surprise announcement on the fourth day of peace talks, the U.S. State Department confirmed Friday that presidents Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia will trek to Washington for a meeting Monday with President Bush.

Peace talk participants have been meeting since Tuesday in Key West at the white-shingled Little White House, which has been used as a tropical retreat for former President Harry S Truman and other world leaders.

Aliyev and Kocharian are negotiating over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly ethnic Armenian enclave that is occupied by Armenian forces though it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Peace talks formally began with an appearance by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who hosted a luncheon for both presidents.

"We've had extraordinary success here, and we intend to use the meetings with President Bush on Monday to reinforce this process,'' U.S. negotiator Carey Cavanaugh told reporters late Friday.

Cavanaugh, mediating the talks with colleagues from France and Russia, refused to elaborate on the details of discussions that occurred behind closed doors.

Observers were skeptical about the outcome of the peace talks, but said the short-sleeved, fun-in-the-sun approach this week did set a particular tone for diplomacy.

"They became more smooth, more mellow here,'' said Dogan Uluc, a reporter for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. "Something happened here, but I don't know what exactly.''

Cavanaugh said mediators were working well into the early morning hours each day, but that didn't stop key invitees from taking advantage of recreational activities.

Security guards at his heels, Kocharian reportedly made at least one run in local waters by jet ski and hooked four fish on another outing, including a 40-pound Cobia.

His Azerbaijani counterpart, Aliyev, was spotted early in the talks donning shades for a stroll down Duval Street, and has been seen sipping "nonalcoholic'' cocktails while watching several sunsets.

Aliyev's spokesman, Elin Suleymanov, literally spent all of Thursday whizzing around town on a rented red scooter whose virtues he eagerly extolled. His face fell Friday when he learned that the next stop for the entourage would be a bit stuffier.

"I like it here. I'd rather stay,'' the sunburned Suleymanov said.

Aliyev, in a brief interview with The Herald, gushed Thursday night through an interpreter over his newfound passion. It wasn't peace he was talking about.

"It's a small city, but every corner of it is just beautiful,'' Aliyev said.

Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley said he's hoping both delegations will consider return trips, a request that Cavanaugh said both presidents have already made.

Armenia's delegation arrived at Boca Chica Naval Air Station on Monday in a chartered executive jet they hopped aboard after taking commercial flights into Miami.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan's Aliyev and his entourage touched down at the air station in a massive Azerbaijan Airways plane.

Some members of the group disembarked with "suitcases filled with cash,'' which they said was earmarked to pay for some of their travel expenses - such as fuel - while in the United States, according to a U.S. military official who was on the tarmac when the plane landed.

"They brought thousands of dollars, fortunately American dollars, to pay for fuel,'' said the official, who asked that his name not be used but confirmed the account. "Normally we take credit cards.''

It's not clear how much cash the group was carrying, but a U.S. Customs official said Friday that it's perfectly legal to bring large dollar amounts into the U.S., as long as you declare any stash of $10,000 or more.

Suleymanov laughed when asked whether government officials toted cash-filled suitcases on their trip. "What is this, James Bond?'' he asked, opening his wallet to display an array of plastic. "We have credit cards.''

Copyright 2001 Miami Herald
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