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Azerbaijan: Ambassador Requests U.S. Mediator For Nagorno-Karabakh Dispute

Washington, 23 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijan's ambassador to the United States has called on Washington to name a new senior negotiator to deal with the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Armenia.

Hafiz Pashayev appealed for new U.S. mediator this week at a seminar sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an independent foreign policy think tank.

Pashayev's request came less than a week after the face-to-face meeting between Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian on July 16 in Geneva.

It follows a statement last month by Azerbaijan state adviser, Vafa Guluzade, that previous U.S. State Department representatives displayed illiteracy and ignorance of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

The U.S. Co-Chair position of the Minsk Group, the OSCE mission that handles the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, became vacant last month with the departure of Ambassador Donald Keyser.

The U.S. State Department has not yet announced Keyser's replacement, but Pashayev provided an indication of the level of negotiator he would like to see get the job.

He cited the examples of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's role in Northern Ireland, Richard Holbrook in Bosnia, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

The request suggests Azerbaijan's intention to resolve the longstanding conflict. Pashayev said:

"The Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict has been going on for 11 years now. It is time now that the conflict is settled rather than managed. We don't want freezing instability to be imposed on the region."

Armenia expressed confidence in the United States' ability to choose an appropriate new mediator. Armen Kharazian, Deputy Chief of the Armenian Mission to the United States, told RFE/RL:

"Whoever is nominated will be a credible, an experienced, unbiased person, someone who will enjoy the trust and confidence of the parties, including Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as Azerbaijan.

The meeting between Kocharian and Aliyev, which both leaders characterized as positive, signals a new tone in the dialogue between the two countries. Though few details of the meeting have been made public, Kocharian released a statement saying he was "pleased," and Aliyev called the meeting "useful."

The Geneva talks were held face-to-face, without the participation of a third person. This marks a departure from earlier meetings, which mostly involved mediators, and suggests the leaders reached a new level of confidentiality.

Guluzade, the Azerbaijaini state advisor, told Turan news agency that such confidentiality is a necessary condition for holding top-level negotiations.

Emil Sanamyan, a representative with the Nagorno-Karabakh Public Affairs Office in Washington, explained in a brief interview with RFE/RL the significance of the Geneva meeting. Sanamyan said no direct talks -- meetings without mediation -- have occurred in the past three years since the 1996 Lisbon Summit.

"The only meetings that took place were in the framework of other summit-type meetings and other communication went through the mediators or shuttling across the region."

Sanamyan said such meetings help foster a climate for peace because the Armenian and Azerbaijani people see their leaders negotiating rather than bickering.

The United States welcomed the developments in Geneva. A State Department spokeswoman Ann Johnson told RFE/RL the meeting demonstrated a good faith effort to work toward a durable and mutually acceptable resolution of the conflict.

She said the United States encourages such confidence building measures that reduce tensions, produce mutual trust and advance the peace process.