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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Presidents Support Renewed Diplomacy On Karabakh

By Harry Tamrazian

Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev met in Switzerland over the weekend for talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. RFE/RL correspondent Harry Tamrazian reports from the summit venue that the two agreed to back a resumption of the negotiating process in the framework of OSCE Minsk Group, and to strengthen the cease-fire regime in the conflict zone.

Geneva, 23 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The meeting of the two presidents took place Sunday at a lakeside villa just outside Geneva. It was the second meeting in the villa between the two, following talks held at the same location last month.

The earlier meeting was highly secretive, with no statement issued to the press. And in later comments to their domestic audiences, the two presidents gave no concrete details.

This time, the two leaders were more forthcoming. They issued a joint statement which included a call for a restart of the Karabakh negotiating process under the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. That effort, currently led by diplomats from France, Russia, and the United States, has drafted various proposals in the past. So far, none has found favor with the three parties in the dispute -- the two governments and the majority ethnic Armenians in the breakaway Azerbaijani region.

The most recent plan floated by the Minsk Group called for a "common state" between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh, a formula which Baku rejected. Diplomatic efforts continue to center on the effort to find a formula acceptable to all sides that would provide Karabakh with something more than autonomy but less than independence.

The joint statement issued by the presidents yesterday also called for strengthening the cease-fire regime in the conflict zone, which has been in place since 1994. The cease-fire has largely held but there have been regular clashes, some serious.

Yesterday's talks consisted of two sessions. The first was a meeting involving only the presidents. After a recess the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vardan Oskanian and Tofik Zulfugarov, as well as Azerbaijani State Adviser Vafa Guluzade and Armenia's Minister of National Security Serzh Sarkissian, joined the presidents in continued talks.

In addition to issuing the joint statement, the presidents also later spoke with a group of journalists allowed into the villa. Aliyev described the talks as useful, saying they will facilitate the negotiating process.

"The talks [with] President Kocharian were open. We talked about the interests of Azerbaijan and Armenia. We have agreed that we have to search and find the answers to the question of a peaceful solution of the conflict, which would be in the interests of both countries."

Aliyev stressed the importance of strengthening the cease-fire regime in the conflict zone. He said that both leaders have instructed their defense ministers to meet and to plan concrete measures. Aliyev said the fact that the cease-fire is holding without foreign intervention and presence is a big achievement.

Speaking about the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute the Azerbaijani president said both sides recognize that they should compromise. He said compromises should be in accordance with the interests of both countries.

On restarting the OSCE Minsk Group effort, Aliyev said that he and Kocharian had instructed their foreign ministers to meet soon. Aliyev said that he believed that both countries share a determination to settle the dispute through peaceful means. He said that they realize that an agreement would open what he called "big opportunities" for the two countries, as well as for the whole Caucasus region.

For his part, Kocharian told reporters he was satisfied with the result of the talks.

"I am satisfied with the meeting. I think that it will help us to better understand one another, to better understand the concerns of the other side. I think such meetings, despite the fact that there is a conflict between us, help us to become partners in the search for normalization, in the search for mutually acceptable solutions."

The Armenian President said that he agreed with the comments made by Aliev, saying that Armenia is also committed to the peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Kocharian said that he was also representing interests of the Karabakh side during the meeting, because as a former leader of Nagorno-Karabakh he knows their concerns.

Perhaps as meaningful as the positive words offered by the two presidents was the positive atmosphere at the villa yesterday. The two leaders smiled frequently and looked at ease. It was not long ago that they exchanged only criticisms from a distance, unwilling to meet at all.