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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Russia And U.S. May Join Nagorno-Karabakh Talks

Vienna, 11 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Diplomats in Vienna believe an agreement is near on creating a troika of Russia, the United States and France to guide future negotiations on a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Officials at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sponsors the negotiations, tell RFE/RL a formal agreement is likely before the end of the month to end a dispute which has blocked the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations since December. They said negotiations could resume soon afterwards..

A top OSCE official, Susanne Christiansen, is currently in Moscow discussing the possible agreement. Christiansen represents Denmark, which currently holds the rotating OSCE chair.

Until now, there have been only two co-chairs of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations. Russia is a permanent co-chair. Finland held the other post until it withdrew last December. The OSCE named France to replace Finland, but this was rejected by Azerbaijan, which said it had not been consulted. Azerbaijan preferred the United States as co-chair. Last month, Azerbaijan's President, Heydar Aliyev, unsuccessfully tried to persuade France to withdraw in favor of the United States.

But, in an official statement today from Baku to RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service, President Heydar Aliyev says he has accepted the proposal on creating the Russia-France-U.S. troika. And, Aliyev conveyed the message by telephone to France's President Jacques Chirac yesterday.

The OSCE said today it believes the troika leadership is the best way out of the dispute. Russia's Foreign Ministry said last week it would not object, so long as the proposal was acceptable to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The United States has said previously it would nominate Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott as its co-chair. Day-to-day discussions will remain in the hands of Ambassador Joseph Presel who has been involved with the issues for several years. France has appointed Jacques Blot, Director-General of political and security affairs at the Foreign Ministry, as its co-chair. Its day-to-day negotiator will be Jean Vaugier, who, until recently, was Ambassador to Nicaragua.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave inside Azerbaijan and is mostly populated by ethnic Armenians. Fighting erupted in 1988 after the ethnic Armenians declared sovereignty. The OSCE arranged a ceasefire in May 1994, which is still holding, but negotiators have been unable to convert this into a permanent settlement. The co-chairs guide the negotiations on behalf of an eleven-nation group created by the OSCE.

Diplomats in Vienna said today that resolution of the co-chair problem will enable the resumption of negotiations, but warned that there is no imnmediate prospect of progress towards a settlement.

Terms of a possible settlement were discussed at the OSCE summit in Lisbon in December, but were rejected by Armenia, which considered them to favor Azerbaijan. The proposal was for Nagorno-Karabakh to remain part of Azerbaijan, but be granted the highest degree of self-determination. The statement said unequivocally that the territorial integrity of both Azerbaijan and Armenia should be maintained. It also said the people of Nagorno-Karabakh -- both Armenians and Azerbaijani -- should be given guarantees of their security. This paragraph was inserted in response to acts of inter-ethnic aggression in the enclave.

Diplomats in Vienna said these principles would be the basis of the negotiations when they resume. However, they told our correspondent that Armenia continued to consider these "principles" one-sided. A diplomat directly involved in the negotiations said: "We have had months of stalemate before, and it seems we shall find ourselves in the same position again."