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Stalled Karabakh Initiative Discussed in Moscow

Munich, Mar 22 (RFE/RL) - The lack of progress in the latest initiative to settle the nagorno-karabakh conflict was discussed in Moscow today by U.S. Secretary of state Warren Christopher and Russia's foreign minister Yevgeni Primakov.

U.S. diplomats tell rfe/rl that christopher and primakov agreed to continue pressing Armenia and Azerbaijan to make compromises over nagorno-karabakh, and to agree on a set of principles for a permanent end to the conflict. There were no other details.

Nagorno-Karabkah is an enclave within Azerbaijan populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. Fighting erupted in 1988, following the declaration of sovereignty by the ethnic Armenians. A ceasefire was agreed in May 1994, but international mediators have been unable to translate this into a permanent cessation of hostilities, and negotiations on a political settlement.

this month, U.S. deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott and Russia's first deputy foreign minister Boris Pastukhov visited Yerevan and Baku, urging the governments to accept a "declaration of principles" for settling the conflict drawn-up by the "Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe"(OSCE). A russian team also visited stepanakert. It was hoped the declaration could be signed on the sidelines of next month's summit meeting in Moscow (Apr 19), and could be used by Russia's President Boris Yeltsin in his election campaign.

But the initiative is stalled. An OSCE spokesman (anonymous) today told rfe/rl that neither Armenia, nor Azerbaijan was willing to accept the complete package, and they differed on the parts they would accept.

The OSCE spokesman said the absence of movement on the initiative was a "disappointment." He said the package of "principles" did not contain any concrete agreements. It was intended to lay out a framework on which negotiations could be built. the spokesman described it as a "political document which would basically guarantee that both sides possessed the political will to reach a permanent settlement."

The spokesman said one of the major issues discussed in the package was the Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia across mountainous Azerbaijani territory. the corridor was captured by Armenian forces in April 1992.

Azerbaijan has made its return to full Azerbaijani sovereignty a key issue in the negotiations. Armenian forces say they are prepared to return much Azerbaijani territory, but insist on other arrangements - including security arrangements - for the Lachin corridor.

Diplomats had said mediators had offered a compromise in which the Lachin corridor would legally continue to be Azerbaijani territory, but in practice would not be treated as such. (in technical terms: it would be Azerbaijani territory "de jure" - but "de facto" not). However, Azerbaijan has rejected this approach, and insisted on the return of the corridor.

The OSCE spokesman said the refusal of Armenia and Azerbaijan to accept the package of "principles" has prompted questions about how long the international negotiators should continue to try to reach a settlement. He said there was no question of withdrawing at the present time, but the idea would return if there was no concrete progress to build on the 1994 ceasefire.

In Prague yesterday, the chairman of the OSCE, Swiss foreign minister Flavio Cotti, also warned that the OSCE mediation effort could not continue indefinitely, if no progress is made by the parties to the conflict, negotiations on The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resume in Moscow next week. An OSCE spokesman said today the meeting will study computer-produced maps of possible dividing lines between the forces and possible borders for Nagorno-Karabakh.

The meeting will take place from Monday to Thursday.

Friday, there will be a meeting of all eleven countries in the international group trying to reach a permanent settlement of the conflict.

Another round of the private talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan is also scheduled for next week. This is conducted at the level of presidential advisors, but details of the talks have never been disclosed. The OSCE spokesman said the failure to agree on the package of "principles" indicated that these talks also had apparently made little progress.