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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Russia Supports Changing OSCE's Karabakh Plan

Yerevan, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A senior Russian diplomat indicated over the weekend that Moscow would support changes in the existing international plan on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to make it acceptable to Azerbaijan.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevsky told reporters in Yerevan on Saturday that Russia is "not sticking firmly to one particular [Karabakh] plan and if it does not fit one of the two conflicting parties, we, as a mediator, are ready to consider other issues as well".

The comment follows reports that Moscow is ready to abandon the idea of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and Karabakh underlying the plan, put forward last November by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and rejected by Azerbaijan.

According to the Azerbaijani media, Russian President Boris Yeltsin made this clear in a recent message to Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev.

Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have overall backed the idea while Baku says it does not guarantee Azerbaijani control over the disputed territory.

In reference to the issue of a common state, Drachevsky said that "As a co-chair [of the OSCE's Minsk Group along with the U.S. and France], Russia is not dependent on those terms that exist today". He added that "If a certain term does not satisfy one of the parties we are ready to search for a new one."

While denying that Moscow will call for a new OSCE plan on Karabakh, the diplomat noted that the mediators' task is to "find a normal solution acceptable to all parties."

Drachevsky was speaking after talks in Yerevan with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Karabakh foreign minister Naira Melkumian. He said the Karabakh issue was high on the talks' agenda and the visit involved a "very productive exchange of opinions."

Armenian and Karabakh leaders have warned that they will not make any more concessions to Azerbaijan beyond those envisaged by the current proposals. The Armenian side insists that Karabakh's future status may fall short of outright independence but say any kind of "vertical subordination" to Baku is unacceptable.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting with Drachevsky, Karabakh's Melkumian said that she was not left with an impression that Russia now favors more concessions to Azerbaijan. She said "Terms do not determine anything".

Last week, Oskanian and Melkumian announced that the OSCE's rotating chairman-in-office, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, will try to persuade Azerbaijan to accept the plan during a visit to the region scheduled to begin on April 13.

President Yeltsin wrote to Aliyev in a bid to dispel Azerbaijani concerns over growing Russian-Armenian military ties. Yeltsin claimed that Moscow remains an impartial mediator despite the military cooperation with Armenia. Baku has threatened to invite NATO or Turkish troops to its soil, following Russia's deployment of sophisticated aircraft and air-defense missiles to its military base in Armenia.

Drachevsky said Russia is "very worried about this pause" in the OSCE-sponsored negotiations on how to end the decade-long Karabakh dispute. In his words, the mediators "should have been more active" in their search for peace.