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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Diplomatic Moves Aimed At Ending Karabakh Deadlock

Prague, 18 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian officials have acclaimed recent initiatives aimed at overcoming the deadlock in the search for a political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They say the initiatives lend support to Yerevan's call for compromises from both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The European Parliament last week (March 11) passed a resolution endorsing the most recent Karabakh peace plan put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group, which it characterized as constituting a basis for discussion likely to end the negotiating deadlock.

Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have both accepted the Minsk Group proposal, which entails the creation by Azerbaijan and the NKR of "a common state." Baku has categorically rejected this.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mainly ethnic Armenian area within Azerbaijan that broke with Baku's rule in 1991. Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought a war over the enclave that ended with a fragile truce in 1994.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian characterized the European Parliament resolution as "the best answer" to those who have been skeptical about the possibility of finding a peaceful and fair solution to the conflict.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, described the resolution as "a positive step of great importance to the peace process," predicting that, given the political will, the Minsk Group proposal could end the conflict within a year.

Speaking at a news conference in New York last week at the end of a tour of the U.S., NKR President Arkadii Ghukasian was more cautious in his predictions. Noting that his leadership is prepared to accept the risks inherent in the OSCE plan for the sake of a lasting peace, Ghukasian accused Azerbaijan of wanting to prolong the status quo and to address the consequences of the conflict while ignoring its causes.

Azerbaijan's State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade dismissed the European Parliament's resolution, saying it failed to specify which of the Minsk Group's various peace proposals it supports.

Meanwhile Iran, which is formally excluded from the peace process because it is not a member of the OSCE, has again offered its services as a mediator.

Both Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and President Mohammad Khatami assured visiting Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov earlier this week that Tehran is prepared to try to bring about a rapprochement between Azerbaijan and Armenia and a solution to the Karabakh conflict, which they said could be adduced as justification for the deployment of foreign troops in the region.

How Zulfugarov responded to that offer is not known. In Yerevan, presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told journalists yesterday that "help, a good word, support are always welcome." But in a clear allusion to the OSCE process he added that "there are certain limits of conflict settlement and the issue is now being discussed within these limits."

The Armenian leadership is, however, clearly aware of the need to involve Iran in discussions of regional issues. Speaking on Monday at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Foreign Minister Oskanian advocated the creation of "an all encompassing regional organization that will include all of the countries of the region" so that problems could be discussed and there could be some sort of consensus-building.

Suggesting that the Transcaucasus has until now been "held hostage to the Western policy of isolating Iran," Oskanian said that the creation of such a regional organization "would certainly help the stability of the region."