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Armenia: U.S. To Renew Focus On Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Talks

Washington, 17 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says Washington will try to energize stalled peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh province which belongs to Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians.

In testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, Albright agreed with the panel that international mediators -- the so-called Minsk Group of France, Russia and the U.S.-- have not accomplished much on a peace settlement.

She said she would like to see more action and will see what the U.S. can do to breathe life into the process and get it moving.

"I will make a point of making sure we rev it up a bit," Albright promised, adding, however, that "there is no quick and easy solution," especially when "the parties do not want to talk to each other."

Negotiations on a permanent peace settlement to replace a fragile cease-fire in effect since 1994 fizzled last year with former President Lev Ter-Petrossian's outgoing government.

He was succeeded in March presidential elections by Robert Kocharian, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh, who came to power largely because of his known opposition to concessions to Azerbaijan.

But Armenia's coolness may not be the only factor in the stalled talks.

At the hearing, Albright's comments were in response to criticism of the Minsk process by the panel chairman, Senator Mitchell McConnell (R-Kentucky).

He said he is, in his words "deeply skeptical that the Minsk Group as a process for resolving this dispute can work."

McConnell said he does not believe Russia is truly interested in a settlement of ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus and that the impetus must come from the United States.

Some Washington experts say continuing turmoil in the Caucasus makes it easier for Russia to press its interests in Caspian Sea energy projects.

McConnell said the U.S. should proceed on Nagorno-Karabakh with or without the Minsk Group or risk compromising its own interests in what he called "a coherent Caspian energy security policy."

He said "a consistent, U.S.-led initiative (on Nagorno-Karabakh) could produce a breakthrough."

The Minsk group, named after the Belarusian capital where it's first meeting was held in the early 1990s, initially included representatives of nine countries of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Now, only France, the U.S. and Russia remain, and Albright said it would be hard to imagine progress on a peace settlement without Russian participation.

In her prepared testimony for the committee, Albright again asked senators to lift a ban on U.S. assistance to the government of Azerbaijan that she said hindered U.S. efforts to be an impartial mediator in the peace talks.

Albright said repealing the law -- Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act -- "would restore balance in our policy toward Azerbaijan and Armenia and reinforce our role as an honest broker in the peace process."

The State Department has been urging abolishment of the restriction on aid for more than four years. The law, passed by the U.S. Congress to help Armenia overcome an Azerbaijani blockade, allows only humanitarian relief and assistance to non-governmental groups in Azerbaijan.