During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Powell Begins New Talks With Leaders of Caucasus

The New York Times
April 4, 2001


KEY WEST, Fla., April 3 Secretary of State Colin L. Powell opened peace talks here today on a longstanding conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, hoping that the sun-splashed setting of this resort and the presence of America's principal diplomat would help nudge the presidents of the two countries toward a settlement.

General Powell's direct involvement in talks between the two former Soviet entities was a sign that the United States would like to see a resolution of the dispute to encourage stability in the oil-rich region of the Caucasus.

The talks have sputtered on and off under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The conflict is over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave that is in Azerbaijan, but occupied by Armenia.

A resolution of the dispute would also represent a first step toward allowing Turkey, an important American ally and a supporter of Azerbaijan, to resume normal relations with Armenia.

In his less than four hours here, General Powell met separately with Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan. He then joined the two for the start of a formal plenary session at a white weatherboard conference center known as the Truman Little White House.

What is at issue is the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the future of nearly one million refugees driven from the enclave and the surrounding districts in six years of fighting, which ended in 1994.

General Powell said the purpose of the talks, which are scheduled to continue for four days, is to build on progress in "developing some common ground" between the two leaders last month in Paris. He held out little hope for a breakthrough, saying the talks would not be the "be-all and end-all meeting."

General Powell said a peaceful settlement was essential for the Caucasus. American officials stress that with Russia clearly allied with Christian Armenia and Turkey allied with Muslim Azerbaijan, renewed fighting would be a huge setback.

A cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan was negotiated in 1994 and has held, more or less, despite the absence of peacekeepers. But the lack of a formal peace accord and the high tensions between the two countries has propelled international interest in finding a solution.

The Azeri leader, Mr. Aliyev, a former member of the Politburo of the Soviet Union, said in his opening statement the international negotiators have been too indecisive.

He accused the negotiators, who are from the United States, France and Russia and work under the umbrella of the European security group, of ignoring basic international law in order to "please 100,000 Armenians who live in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan." Further, he said, the negotiators had been too busy "mediating" rather than "exerting necessary influence."

In their last 15 encounters, the two presidents have touched on the essential elements of a resolution but have been unable to come close to a settlement, diplomats said.

Mr. Aliyev, who is 78 and eager to set the stage for the succession of his son Ilham, has promised a high degree of authority to Nagorno-Karabakh but insists on retaining formal sovereignty.

For its part, Armenia has insisted that the enclave retain its own armed forces and that its troops retain six purely Azeri districts that are wrecked and deserted until the status of the enclave is officially determined.

Mr. Kocharian is a former prime minister of Nagono-Karabakh. That fact, diplomats said, makes it difficult for him to offer serious concessions to Azerbaijan.

The fighting began in 1988, when the 180,000 ethnic Armenians in the enclave demanded that their homeland become part of Armenia. Since then, the enclave has insisted on either full independence or annexation to Armenia.

As the negotiations proceed, Mr. Kocharian is always aware, diplomats said, that his predecessor, Lev Ter-Petrosian, was overthrown in 1998 by hard-liners opposed to his acceptance of an Azeri proposal for a staged approach to peace. Under that proposal, Armenian forces would have withdrawn from the occupied districts of Azerbaijan and refugees would have been able to return.

After the last round of talks in Paris, Mr. Kocharian said that the talks with Mr. Aliyev were deadlocked and that he hoped that the meeting here might advance the effort.

General Powell did not publicly delineate any new ideas that the State Department might have for resolving the differences.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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