During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflic

Mr. Bush's Caspian Diplomacy

Editorial: The New York Times, April 16, 2001

Although President Bush has spoken sourly of his predecessor's enthusiasm for trying to solve foreign conflicts, he met recently with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, two nations locked in a seemingly intractable ethnic dispute. Mr. Bush's involvement in negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh - an ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan - is undoubtedly in part due to the extensive oil and gas reserves in the Caspian region. Nevertheless, it is a welcome move, which we hope signals that Washington will remain engaged with troubled regions of the globe.

In close coordination with Armenia, residents of Nagorno-Karabakh went to war to break away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Ethnic Armenians now effectively run Nagorno- Karabakh and occupy an area around it and a corridor connecting the enclave to Armenia. The 800,000 Azeris driven out of the area live in miserable refugee camps around Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has maintained a blockade against Armenia, where the dismal economy has provoked the emigration of nearly half the nation. The Armenian community in America, in turn, persuaded Congress to prohibit American aid to Azerbaijan.

Past talks have foundered on disagreement over Nagorno-Karabakh's legal status. Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's president, says he would allow the region wide autonomy if it remained part of Azerbaijan. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh seek full independence for the enclave. But some Bush administration officials now seem optimistic that Armenia may become more flexible. They express hope that Armenia's president, Robert Kocharian, a Nagorno-Karabakh native who was leader of the enclave, could convince Armenians - and especially the powerful military - to abandon their claim for independence should he determine to.

A major reason for Mr. Bush's involvement is that peace would speed the development of the Caspian oil fields and the construction of a pipeline to carry the oil from Azerbaijan to the West. The favored route would avoid Russia, where the oil flow could be hostage to political events, but it is nevertheless seen as vulnerable because it passes very near to Armenian-controlled territory. In a region dominated by Russia, and by British and French oil companies, Mr. Bush no doubt hopes to increase American influence. It is welcome that he is doing so by furthering the possibility of peace.

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