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Caucasus: No Breakthrough Expected As Nagorno-Karabakh Talks Resume

Munich, 31 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Negotiations on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute resume in Moscow tomorrow after a long interruption, but diplomats say a breakthrough is unlikely. Representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet the co-chairs of the negotiating group --Russia, the U.S. and France -- tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday, Armenia and Azerbaijan meet the full eleven-nation, international negotiating group.

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who requested anonymity, said preliminary talks had indicated there was little room for a breakthrough. The OSCE sponsors the negotiations.

"All sides are sticking to their positions and, if anything, have hardened them," the spokesman told RFE/RL. He expressed surprise at a reported statement by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev in Paris last week that he was optimistic about the chances of progress in the coming months. "Perhaps President Aliyev has private information which justifies optimism," the OSCE spokesman said.

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, which is still holding, but there has been little progress toward a permanent settlement. Negotiations broke down last November. The OSCE summit in Lisbon in December failed to break the deadlock.

Azerbaijan insists that it will not grant Nagorno-Karabakh independence under any circumstances. The most Baku is prepared to offer is a high degree of autonomy.

The sides also disagree on other issues, including control of the Lachin pass between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, disarmament measures, and confidence-building measures.

The OSCE spokesman said Azerbaijan was also expected to use this week's negotiations to protest the recent disclosure that Russia had secretly transferred weapons to Armenia between 1994-1996.

The meeting will also discuss the recent appointment of the president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic, Robert Kocharyan, as Prime Minister of Armenia. In Paris last week, Azerbaijan's President Aliyev described the appointment as a negative development.

Armenia has said it is not disturbed by the criticism, and Yerevan says it can appoint whomever it wishes as Prime Minister. Armenia currently has -- and has had -- ministers in the Yerevan Cabinet from Nagorno-Karabakh. "We will have to wait and see whether the move will have any effect on the Nagorno-Karabakh talks," the OSCE spokesman said.

OSCE spokesmen said France, which joined the co-chairmanship at the beginning of the year, has been very active in trying to find grounds for progress. In the latest move, France's Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, is visiting the region this week.