Prague, 14 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Hasan Hassanov arrived in Finland today for talks on the deadlocked negotiations on the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Finland's Foreign Ministry said the talks with Hassanov today and tomorrow will complete preparations for the international conference on Nagorno-Karabakh to be held in Helsinki next week. It follows a visit to Azerbaijan this month by Finland's Foreign Minister Tarya Halonen, which failed to produce a breakthrough.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave inside Azerbaijan. It is largely populated by ethnic Armenians. Fighting erupted in 1988 after Stepanakert declared sovereignty. A ceasefire has been in effect since May, 1994, but international negotiators have been unable to convert this into a permanent settlement. Finland and Russia co-chair an international group trying to negotiate a settlement.
Next week's conference in Helsinki will include representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian population of Nagarono-Karabakh, together with the 11 countries in the international group called the "Minsk Group."
The full meeting begins Tuesday and will continue until the end of the week. Monday, the representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh's ethnic Armenians hold a separate meeting under the chairmanship of Russia and Finland.
A spokesman for Finland's Foreign Ministry tells RFE/RL the goal of next week's conference is to prepare a statement for next month's summit meeting in Portugal of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Ministry spokesman said it was too early to predict what form this statement would take. But he said the conference will discuss a possible set of principles for a settlement, but said it was unlikely these could be agreed before next month's summit.
A U.S. diplomat associated with the negotiations today told RFE/RL that no major progress was expected, either at next week's conference, or at the OSCE summit. He said neither side was yet ready to make the major concessions necessary. The American diplomat noted that this month, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister renewed demands for the withdrawal of ethnic Armenian forces from all Azerbeijani territory, including the land corridor (Lachin), connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev told Finland's Foreign Minister during her visit this month that Baku was prepared to offer Nagorno-Karabakh a form of autonomy, but would never accept its independence.
A U.S. government delegation is currently visiting Azerbaijan and Armenia to discuss political and economic issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh. The delegation includes Joseph Pressel, the U.S. special envoy to the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations.
The delegation will also visit Georgia.