Munich, March 15 (RFE/RL) - Diplomats tell RFE/RL that the U.S. and Russia are trying to work out a preliminary agreement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which can be signed on the sidelines of next month's summit meeting in Moscow.
The April 19-20 summit was convened to discuss nuclear issues. But diplomats tell our correspondent privately that it provides an ideal platform for presenting a political breakthrough in long-stagnant efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict between the Azeri government and secessionist ethnic Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave of Azerbaijan.
The diplomats say the idea is to present what is called a "declaration of principles," which will be used as a basis for further negotiations. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are said to favor the idea, so long as it does not damage any of their fundamental positions on Nagorno-Karabakh.
The diplomats - in various european capitals, and all involved in the Karabakh negotiations - tell RFE/RL that arrangements for signing the document during the summit will be discussed by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher when he visits Moscow next week.
Until now, the negotiations on reaching a settlement have been handled by a special group created by the "Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe" (OSCE). It was OSCE which negotiated the ceasefire which has been in place since May 1994.
A high-ranking OSCE official associated with the negotiations, Rene Nyberg of Finland, told RFE/RL today that both the U.S. and Russia had kept OSCE informed about the progress of their present initiative. He said OSCE would continue to be responsible for the negotiations, which will follow agreement on the "declaration of principles."
The outline of the proposed "declarations of principles" was discussed by the top-level American and Russian negotiators who visited both Baku and Erevan this week.
The U.S. team was led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and the Russians by First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov and the special presidential envoy for Nagorno-Karabakh, Vladimir Kazimirov. Diplomats said their visits followed progress in the secret bi-lateral talks between presidential advisors of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The diplomats said both Russia and the U.S. have personal reasons for wanting progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations. Russian president Boris Yeltsin is said to believe that a breakthrough would help him present himself as a peacemaker in the presidential election campaign. Russian television would cover the ceremony at which the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan sign the "declaration of principles," with Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton standing beside them.
The diplomats say Clinton also believes such a ceremony would enhance his image as a peacemaker in the run-up to this year's U.S. presidential election. Other pressures are said to come from the U.S. and Russian oil industries, which want a more stable atmosphere in which to carry out their operations in Azerbaijan.
Diplomats said the signing of the "declaration of principles" by Armenia and Azerbaijan might be accompanied by other agreements, including the lifting of the energy embargo against Armenia and of U.S. restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan.
The diplomats emphasized that the signing of a "declaration of principles" would not necessarily convert the present ceasefire into a permanent cessation of hostilities. Nor would it resolve the difficult problems, which have led to stagnation in the OSCE-negotiated talks. These will continue to be negotiated in regular meetings under the chairmanship of Russia and Finland.
When a peace settlement is achieved a multi-national, peace-keeping force will be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh. A summit meeting of OSCE countries in December 1944 agreed that Russia will participate in the force, along with other countries.