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Caucasus: Russia, U.S. Support Dialogue On Nagorno-Karabakh

Recent direct talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan have given new impetus to mediation in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. RFE/RL correspondent Emil Danielyan in Yerevan reports on the latest developments during a visit by Russia's foreign minister.

Yerevan, 6 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said (Sept. 3) Moscow finds the recent dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan encouraging. He says Russia is ready to step up efforts to end the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed enclave of ethnic Armenians located in Azerbaijan.

Ivanov's comments, made during his official visit to Armenia, were endorsed (Sept. 3) by a senior U.S. diplomat, also in Yerevan.

Ivanov told reporters that the meetings in July and August between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan had "great significance" for the peace process. He said Moscow will try to back up that dialogue within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE's Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States, spearheads international efforts to find a peace formula for Karabakh. The enclave broke away from Baku's rule in the late 1980s and has since been de-facto independent.

In an unprecedented step, Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Heidar Aliyev of Azerbaijan have met in Geneva twice in just over a month. The two men have not specified whether major progress has been made on any of the sticking points. But both have said they are satisfied with the talks.

The optimism of the two leaders was shared by Carey Cavanaugh, who was recently appointed chief negotiator on Karabakh for the United States. After talks with Kocharian and Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Cavanaugh said:

"People have grown frustrated over the long period of time that this (conflict) hasn't been solved. ...We have seen recent signs that make people optimistic." The U.S. envoy denied speculation that the Geneva talks were arranged by Washington, which wants a greater role in the peace process.

"I think that the direct talks between [Aliyev and Kocharian] have shown a commitment on both sides that they really want to find a solution. The United States and the Minsk Group and other countries are prepared to do what they can to help with that solution."

Cavanaugh refused to comment on the fate of the Minsk Group's most recent peace proposal for Karabakh, put forward last November. That plan is based on the idea of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian-populated Karabakh. The plan was on the whole accepted by Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), but was rejected by Azerbaijan.

So far, the negotiators have proposed only minor amendments that have not produced an acceptable compromise. The Armenian Foreign Ministry insists that the main principles underlying the "common state" idea should be kept intact. But Azerbaijani President Aliyev told Ivanov and Cavanaugh (Sept. 2) that Azerbaijan cannot accept that formulation.

Ivanov had more than just Karabakh on his agenda. He also addressed relations between Russia and Armenia, saying the two countries are "satisfied with their development" and have agreed on "concrete steps on how to move them further forward."

The Russian foreign minister also raised the issue of "security and stability in the Greater Caucasus," a region that includes Russia's restive North Caucasus, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"The existing problems there threaten the security and stability of all regional states...It is necessary to have a close cooperation among all those countries for jointly combating extremism, separatism and terrorism."

Ivanov said he also discussed security in the Greater Caucasus with the United States.