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OSCE Chair Optimistic About Nagorno-Karabakh Talks --> OSCE Chariman De Gucht believes next month's meeting in Paris will be a productive one (file photo) (epa) 27 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the OSCE, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, says he believes all sides involved in the 15-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are showing some willingness to reach a solution.

In statements released in Vienna today, De Gucht said his visit to the region this week had left him cautiously hopeful about next month's meeting in Paris of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Robert Kocharian and Ilhamn Aliyev.

They will discuss a possible agreement on general principles for a settlement. It was already reviewed by the foreign ministers of the two countries in London last week.

De Gucht said there were still many stumbling blocks to be overcome but a settlement would be beneficial to both countries.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave inside Azerbaijan with a mostly Armenian population. War erupted in 1991 when it broke away from Azerbaijan. Russia brokered a ceasefire in May 1994 when Armenia had captured most of the territory. The war left about 25,000 dead and about 600,000 displaced Azerbaijanis.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul

On January 25, RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Mayis Alizade spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister ABDULLAH GUL about prospects for a breakthrough in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

RFE/RL: The general understanding is that 2006 might be the year for a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict....

GUL: We hope an acceptable resolution will be reached in 2006. Our concern is that other factors might hinder [this process] if it is delayed and no solution can be found. The solution of this conflict would greatly ease the situation in the Caucasus.

RFE/RL: After a long controversy and discussion at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Azerbaijani delegation's credentials were approved. But, pointing to the shortcomings in democratization and reforms, PACE Raporteur Andreas Gross said PACE has been monitoring the situation in Azerbaijan for the last five years and there is no major improvement.

GUL: This is an important process. Every country goes through it. To boost democracy and reforms is something to benefit the countries themselves, and one should not leave it only to the European Council and the European Parliament. I am sure that, if there are problems [with regard to these reforms], the Azerbaijani government will deal with them, and these problems will be resolved. I believe the Council of Europe is very important for Azerbaijan. It wasn't easy to get to there. I know that myself because I worked for it quite hard.

RFE/RL: You are saying Azerbaijan should appreciate the Council of Europe's value?

GUL: No, both sides should appreciate [this relationship]. The Council of Europe is very important for Azerbaijan, as is Azerbaijan for the Council of Europe as an important country of the Caucasus. One should work to solve any problems.

For a complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, click here.