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Nagorno-Karabakh: Peace Negotiators 'Optimistic' --> Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian (file photo) (InterPressNews) PRAGUE, September 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian has told RFE/RL that international mediators involved in negotiations on a Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement believe a framework peace agreement is still possible this year.

He spoke with RFE/RL's Armenian Service by telephone on September 12 after talks in Paris with the U.S., French, and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group that mediates the negotiations.

He described the talks as "very good and effective." However, he gave few details, saying only that they focused on ways of reinvigorating the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, which faltered this summer after initial reports of progress.

"They believe that it is still possible to make some additional progress before the end of this year or before our parliamentary elections [due early next year] at the latest," Oskanian said.

Ministerial Meeting Is Key

He said the mediators are trying to arrange a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, adding that such a meeting could take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.

The Minsk Group co-chairs, among them U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, were to hold similar talks today in London with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. "The results [of their efforts] can be assessed only after their meeting with the Azerbaijani foreign minister and, if there is agreement, after the two ministers' meeting," Oskanian said.

The latest round of Minsk Group diplomacy began amid talk that yet another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Karabakh could be held on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Belarus slated for October 16.

Presidential Meeting In The Cards?

Armenian presidential spokesman Victor Soghomonian recently told RFE/RL that he does not rule out the possibility of a meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan if talks between the countries' foreign ministers are held.

Foreign Minister Oskanian says he agrees with that assessment.

"Only after the ministers meet and clarify whether there is a chance to continue negotiations and make further progress will it be possible to talk about a meeting of the presidents," Oskanian said.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev have already met twice this year in unsuccessful attempts to agree on a framework peace accord put forward by the mediators. The proposed deal calls for a gradual settlement of the Karabakh conflict that would culminate in a referendum on the disputed region's status.

Universal Principles?

President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)


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