During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflic

Aliyev Hopeful After Bush Meeting

by Ramil Zeynalov

After meeting U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House Monday, Azeri President Heydar Aliyev emerged upbeat about the prospects for peace over Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan met with Bush, but left without commenting to reporters.

President Aliyev told reporters after his half-hour meeting, We are hopeful the United States of America and other co- chairs will intensify their efforts in order to achieve peaceful resolution to this conflict. The Azeri president declined to make any firm predictions about a possible peace agreement, saying: I havent had a chance to measure how close we are now.

Bushs Vice President Dick Cheney, along with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, joined the meetings, which were described by unnamed U.S. officials as very warm in tone.

According to a senior U.S. administration official, Bush said he supports what both countries have done to secure peace in the Caucasus region, yet understands there remains a good deal of work to be done. The president encouraged both leaders in the separate meetings to keep at the process, to work to overcome the differences, said the official, who spoke under condition of anonymity.

The two leaders met with Bush after what his aides called very fruitful negotiations.

Both sides are thought to be looking forward to a further round of talks in Geneva in June, and are being strongly encouraged by the three OSCE Minks Group co-chairs, the U.S., France and Russia.

The Bush administration expressed cautious optimism about the two sides negotiations last week at Key West, Florida, with senior administration officials declining to provide details on the differences remaining between the two sides, or how close the countries were to an agreement. Topics for discussion at the Key West summit included the presence of Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, trade blockades, the resettlement of refugees left homeless by the war, and how much autonomy Karabakh should have within Azerbaijan.Diplomats from the three co-chair countries are thought to be preparing a new proposal for the Geneva talks.

Officials involved in the Florida talks would only say that several days of talks in Switzerland have been confirmed, although exact dates and locations have not been determined.

After the Key West talks finished, Jean-Jacques Gaillarde of France, one of three co-chairs representatives, said last Saturday: We are much closer to peace than we were before the conference.

The U.S. representative leading the talks, Carey Cavanaugh, agreed that the negotiations were a significant step forward and they would have been impossible without the serious determination of the Azeri and Armenian presidents.

Comments following the talks in the U.S. have been mixed from Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Azeri opposition leaders warned of the dangers of a defeatist agreement, a positive reaction came from former Azeri presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade, who said that the mooted peace agreement will not any cause excitement in Armenia or in Azerbaijan.

Hinting strongly at a high degree of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia over the outlines of any future deal, Guluzade told the Turan news agency: As far as I know, Washington has asked Moscow to ensure stability and provide security for Robert Kocharyan so that he can implement the reached agreements. Should Russia fulfil its duties as a co-chair, peace will be restored in the near future.

From Armenia, government officials also sounded an upbeat note, following the Key West talks.
Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan said he was satisfied with the results of the talks and described them as positive on the whole and thought there had been some progress.

However, one conspiracy theory put forward by a former Armenian security official in Yerevan last Friday showed that Armenian resistance to a peace deal may yet surface strongly, particularly from the Armenian armed forces.

Major-General Eduard Simonyants, a former chief of Armenian national security, told TV channel A1+ that the talks included the creation of transport and communication corridors, which is none other than the Megri option [a territorial swap between Azerbaijan and Armenia].

Simonyants alleged that the proposal of a Megri corridor was linked to the Armenian parliament shooting in October 1999, saying that the removal of individuals who stood in the way of this option was connected by causal and consequential links.

At the time of the shooting, the two countries were thought close by some observers to agreeing a peace settlement.

Copyright 2001 The Baku Sun
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