During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict
Cavanaugh: Peace Is "Accelerating"
Saturday, May 12, 2001
by Edith M. Lederer
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - The chief U.S. negotiator said he believes the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan can settle a 13-year-old conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, one of Europe's almost forgotten disputes. Armenia's president, however, was more cautious.
U.S. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh said Friday that the "peace process is accelerating" after "dramatic momentum" during negotiations between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev in Key West, Fla., last month.
"I believe these presidents can find a peace agreement that they would be satisfied with," Cavanaugh told an Armenian investment forum. "It has to be 100 percent. They're working hard toward the 100 percent, and they're not there yet, but they're getting closer all the time."
Kocharian, who also attended the forum, was less sanguine in an interview with The Associated Press, calling himself "a realist" and refusing to forecast when an agreement might be reached.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous territory populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but nestled inside predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan. Its declaration of independence in 1988 sparked a six-year war that killed more than 30,000 people and drove about 1 million, mostly Azerbaijanis, from their homes.
While a 1994 cease-fire has largely held, some 200 people die every year as a result of the conflict, and the two southern Caucasus nations have failed to resolve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh's claims to independence.
In the past two years, Kocharian and Aliyev have held more than 15 meetings as part of a peace process shepherded by the United States, Russia, and France. The next round of negotiations is expected to start in Geneva in June.
Kocharian was meeting representatives from the three co-sponsors in New York on Saturday to prepare for next months' talks.
Kocharian said the outline of a settlement proposal is clear but that the details are very important and could take time. If an agreement is reached, Kocharian said it will take up to a year to implement - and the Armenian parliament would have to give its approval.
He insisted that Nagorno-Karabakh, whose population is about 150,000, must take part in discussions on a final settlement - and that an agreement must take into account that Nagorno-Karabakh has operated as an independent state since 1988.
"The current situation is irreversible and we cannot ignore that," said Kocharian, who asserted that "the new generation and the young people do not perceive Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan. Time is doing its business."
Cavanaugh said Aliyev and Kocharian are committed to peace because they realize it will mean stability, greater investment, more jobs, and a better life for their peoples.
But he told the AP that getting the Armenian and Azerbaijani people behind an agreement and selling the tough compromises involved will test their political skills.
"People in Armenia and Azerbaijan see the need for peace,'' he said. "They see there's no jobs in their country for their children. They see they're stuck in a refugee camp waiting for a new life, and it depends on peace. But they don't fully see how to do compromise."
Copyright 2001 Associated Press.
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