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Armenia/Azerbaijan: France To Co-Chair Nagorno-Karabakh Talks

Vienna, 7 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has named France the new co-chair of the deadlocked negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. The other co-chair is Russia, whose post is permanent.

An OSCE spokesman today told RFE/RL that France had won the post over the United States. The United States had campaigned actively for the co-chair post during last month's OSCE summit in Lisbon. U.S. diplomats in Vienna today told an RFE/RL correspondent that they were "disappointed," but made no other comment.

France succeeds Finland, which surrendered the co-chair in December after 20 months in office. OSCE said the chief French negotiator will be the Director-General of Political and Security Affairs at France's Foreign Ministry, Jacques Blot. He replaces Finland's Ambassador, Heikki Talvitie.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave inside Azerbaijan largely populated by ethnic Armenians. Fighting erupted in 1988 after the ethnic Armenians declared sovereignty. The OSCE arranged a ceasefire in May 1994, but has been unable to convert this into a permanent settlement or arrange the return of refugees. Azerbaijan continues to insist that Nagorno-Karabakh remain under its control, although Baku says it is willing to grant a considerable degree of autonomy.

Negotiations are conducted by an 11-state group under the co-chairs. France and the United States are members of this group, and Finland will continue to participate in it.

The appointment of France as co-chair was made by the outgoing chairman of the OSCE, Switzerland's Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti. Diplomats said Cotti had canvassed the opinions of all 54 active members of OSCE. The appointment took effect January 1.

Diplomats in Vienna tell our correspondent that France had sought the position in keeping with its policy that Europeans should have a greater share of top posts in international organizations. The diplomats said Russia also preferred to have France as the other co-chair, rather than the United States.

Nagorno-Karabakh was a major issue at the December Lisbon summit. A public quarrel between Armenia and Azerbaijan prevented the summit from reaching agreement on a statement to be included in the summit's final document. A declaration outlining possible principles for a settlement was issued separately by OSCE chairman Cotti, but was immediately rejected by Armenia in a formal statement.

The chairman's declaration said three principles, which should form part of the a settlement, had been recommended by Russia and Finland as co-chairs of the negotiating group. Cotti said these principles were supported by all members of the international negotiating group -- but not accepted by Armenia. They were:

Maintenance of the territorial integrity of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

A definition of the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh in an agreement based on self-determination, allowing Stepanakert the highest degree of self-rule within Azerbaijan.

Guaranteed security for Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population -- including mutual obligations to ensure that all parties complied with the settlement.

Immediately afterward, Armenia issued its own declaration, which was included in the summit's final document as an annex. It said the chairman's statement "does not reflect the spirit or the letter" of the mandate of the international group trying to achieve a political agreement. Armenia complained that the chairman's statement pre-determined the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, in contradiction to agreements reached by the OSCE when negotiations first began in 1992.

Despite their differences, both Armenia and Azerbaijan said they were ready to continue negotiations on a settlement. An OSCE spokesman said today a meeting would "probably" be arranged soon, but could not say whether it would be this month.