Azerbaijan International

Spring 1998 (6.1)
Page 56

U.S. Policy for the Caucasus
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, March 31, 1998

The following excerpt relates to the involvement of the United States in resolving the Karabakh Conflict.

Azerbaijani child-artist Kamilla Hajiyeva TsiperovichLet me concentrate on the enterprise to which we have devoted the most energy: Nagorno-Karabakh. This is not just a dangerous, potentially contagious conflict in its own right-it is also emblematic of one of the most vexing challenges of the post-Cold War world: from Slovenia on the border of Italy to Kyrgyzstan on the border of China, the 90s have seen the eruption of ethnic and religious animosities that had been mostly dormant during the Ice Age of Communist rule. Another manifestation of this threat to international peace requires the presence of approximately 8,000 American troops to help keep the peace in Bosnia today, and another still imperils Europe anew in Kosovo.

Photo: "The Face of War" by child-artist Kamilla Hajiyeva Tsiperovich, 8. The drawing shows her perception of how war affects people differently - from indifference to sadness and horror.

We have been involved in the quest for a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since 1992, when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (then known as the CSCE) called for a peace conference to take place in Minsk. The conference never took place, but the Minsk Group has become a standing body, including the U.S., seeking a negotiated peace in the conflict.

In early 1997, we strengthened our direct involvement by becoming a co-chair of the OSCE process, along with Russia and France. I serve as the American co-chair of the Minsk Conference, and Ambassador Pascoe is co-chair of the Minsk Group, which works full-time on this immensely thorny and important problem. He and his Russian and French partners worked especially hard last summer and fall to develop a sound and promising approach that concentrated on the security aspects of ending the armed conflict in the first phase, with talks on status issues to follow.

The rationale was this: At present, there is no status for Nagorno-Karabakh that would be acceptable to all sides. Short of imposing a solution on one side or another-something we have vowed not to do-discussion of status could take many years. During that time, the life of the region would be disrupted and the threat of war ever-present. The stunted economic development, especially of Armenia, would continue to deprive the people of the Caucasus of the well-being and stability we seek and they deserve. President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and then-President Ter-Petrossian of Armenia had hoped to sign a first-phase agreement that would have done the following:

  • Ended the threat of renewed fighting and allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees to go home;
  • Returned to each side much of the territory occupied by the other;
  • Opened up borders and lines of communication and trade;
  • Lifted all embargoes;
  • Left the land connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia intact and secure;
  • Provided international peacekeeping forces and security guarantees.

This security would allow Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh to discuss status, without preconditions, free of any military, political or economic pressure to sign a deal until both sides found a settlement on which they could agree.

Unfortunately, the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities refused to participate in negotiations on this proposal. They insist on discussing status from the beginning. Our concern is that concentrating on status first would return the talks to the endless exchanges of maximalist positions that characterized the negotiations before we became co-chairs. Meanwhile, the vast numbers of displaced persons would remain in camps, miserable and increasingly radicalized. Neither Russia, France nor the United States is willing to sponsor such negotiations. This is not out of impatience-we are prepared to be patient. But we are only prepared to sponsor negotiations seriously aimed at achieving a settlement, not an exercise in futility.

As I said, Presidents Aliyev and Ter-Petrossian were prepared to proceed on what we regarded as a constructive and promising basis. The Nagorno-Karabakh authorities were not.

The resignation of President Ter-Petrossian on February 3, 1998, and the Armenian presidential elections-the second round was held yesterday-have forced a pause in the peace process.

But a pause does not mean a halt. We are not giving up. We owe it to ourselves and to the parties to persist. The co-chairs plan to return to the region in April. We have made clear that we hope and expect the new Armenian government to take a serious approach to negotiations aimed at achieving real progress toward a lasting, fair settlement.

From Azerbaijan International (6.1) Spring 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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