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Azerbaijan: Baku Wants France To Withdraw As Chair Of Karabakh Group

Baku, 17 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Azerbaijan is trying to persuade the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to change its decision on France becoming a co-chair of the international group seeking a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister, Hasan Hasanov, today tells RFE/RL that President Heydar Aliyev tried very hard to persuade France to withdraw as co-chair, during Aliyev's recent visit to Paris.

Hasanov said Baku prefers the United States as co-chair, along with Russia, whose post is permanent. But, Hasanov said France made it clear that it has no intention of giving up, pointing out that Paris wants to prove to Azerbaijan that France is able to be an objective mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Hasan Hasanov refered to a proposal to make the United States the negotiating group's third co-chair, but said this will only complicate the process of trying to reach a settlement.

Our Baku correspondent cites reports that one of President Aliyev's top advisers is in Vienna to pursue Azerbaijan's position on this issue.

An OSCE-sponsored ceasefire ended hostilities in the conflict in May, 1994, but an eleven-state special negotiating group (the Minsk group) has been unable to convert this into a permanent peace.

France's Foreign Ministry today said Paris is not opposed to the United States as a third co-chair of the OSCE's international negotiating group. The ministry tells RFE/RL that the United States is also very interested in resolving the Karabakh dispute, and that it would be better to join efforts of all interested countries like Russia, France and the United States to speed up the Minsk negotiating process.

Responding to President Aliyev's assertions that Paris could favor Armenia's position, the Ministry said France has told Aliyev that it wants to narrow differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and to improve relations between the Caucasus neighbors.