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OSCE Summit: Presidents Of Azerbaijan, Belarus State Positions On Conflicts

Lisbon, 2 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev said today that if Armenia recognized the territorial integrity of his country, Baku would be prepared to grant the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh a high degree of autonomy. Aliyev told more than 50 heads of state and government leaders attending the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) summit in Lisbon that Baku was ready for a peace deal on the disputed enclave, but only under these terms. He said Baku would "never allow the creation on the territory of Azerbaijan of a second Armenian state."

Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan, is currently held by Armenian forces. Fighting there erupted in 1988, after the region declared sovereignty. The OSCE arranged a ceasefire in May 1994, but has been unable to convert it into a peace agreement.

Also at the summit, Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka today defended his country's record on democracy and warned other countries not to interfere. Lukashenka told the European security summit in Lisbon that it would be "counterproductive to try to exert pressure on us or try to interfere in our internal affairs."

Lukashenka said Belarus expected from the OSCE "the corresponding attitude and compliance with the existing rules and procedures governing its relations" with member states.

He responded to criticism voiced at the summit's opening session earlier today by the OSCE's chairman, Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti. Cotti told more than 50 heads of state and government leaders that he was "deeply concerned" by developments in Belarus.

Lukashenka defended last month's much-criticized referendum in which he won backing for strengthening his powers and extending his term. He insisted Belarus had solved its problems democratically.

Lukashenka insisted that the referendum was held in full compliance with the constitution and legislation of the country. He said any attempt to repesent the results as not legitimate "are completely without foundation."

He also stressed that Belarus does not have a political crisis and "there is no hint of a division in our society, despite what our internal opposition would have you believe." He said that since the referendum there has been peace and stability in Belarus society.

Lukashenka specifically mentioned the United States in his attack, following Washington's criticism of his autocratic rule. He also opposed NATO's plans to expand eastwards up to Belarus's border, saying this could create a new "schism" in Europe.

Leaders at the security summit heard, as expected, strong appeals from Russia urging NATO to reconsider plans to expand eastwards to include former Warsaw Pact states.

In a message sent to the summit's opening session in Lisbon today, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said Europe was facing an important decision. He said "We have a choice: either a unified, flourishing Europe . . . or an unpredictable, cold peace."

Yeltsin said new divisions on the continent must not be allowed.

In his speech to more than 50 heads of state and government leaders at the two-day summit, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also warned that new divisions in post Cold War Europe would lead to a worsening of the geo-political situation. He appealed to NATO not to take any hasty decisions.

Chernomyrdin also said that while Russia could not veto NATO decisions, no one had the right to criticize its right to defend its national interest.

However, U.S. vice-president Al Gore told the summit that NATO expansion posed no threat to Russia or any other country and that the alliance's planned enlargement would bring stability to the whole continent. Gore said NATO has been, and remains a defensive alliance.