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Caucasus: OSCE Leader Optimistic Over Karabakh, Transdniestr

Europe's leading security organization, the OSCE, believes there is a reasonable chance that settlements could soon emerge in three long-running crisis areas in the former Soviet Union. Correspondent Roland Eggleston was in Vienna this week to celebrate the OSCE's anniversary and reports on the organization's new-found optimism:

Vienna, 21 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Jan Kubis, the secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), says he is cautiously optimistic that long-running disputes in Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia and Moldova can be resolved in the foreseeable future.

Kubis made his comments this week in Vienna during a special session of the OSCE to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki accords, which opened the way to the end of the East/West divide in Europe.

He says the OSCE hopes to achieve a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh in the next 18 months, although no agreement is likely before the elections in Azerbaijan at the end of the year.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave in Azerbaijan that is largely populated by ethnic Armenians. The Armenian population broke with Azerbaijan in 1991, leading to war between the two countries. OSCE helped negotiate a cease-fire in 1994 and since then has tried to achieve a political settlement.

Kubis says OSCE negotiators believe that presidents Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia both want a permanent settlement but cannot be rushed into it. Austrian foreign minister Benita Ferraro-Waldner, came away with a similar belief after separate meetings with both presidents this week.

Kubis recalls the tumult in Armenia in February 1998 when the then-president Ter-Petrossian sought a swift settlement with the argument that this could help the country's ailing economy. He then lost his post and was replaced by the current president, Kocharian, who has said he doesn't want to rush into a settlement.

The OSCE secretary-general says recent bilateral talks between Aliyev and Kocharian have apparently produced elements which might become part of a possible settlement, but he declined to say what they were.

Kubis says he is also hopeful a solution in Georgia can emerge in the next few months. Kubis said the present discussions on closing Russian bases in Georgia with the help of U.S. financing are a good sign.

A U.S. delegation held talks with the Russian foreign ministry this week on the political, financial and logistical aspects of withdrawing Russian military equipment from Georgia. The U.S. has offered $10 million toward the cost of reducing the amount of Russian military hardware in Georgia and the closure of four Russian bases.

Kubis says the OSCE welcomes a British proposal for the creation of an international fund --- which would be controlled by the OSCE -- to help the Russian military withdrawal.

The OSCE secretary-general says he regrets that progress in reaching a settlement in Moldova was slower than expected, but he remains hopeful it might be achieved next year.

The OSCE insists on the complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from Moldova by the end of the year 2002. At an OSCE summit in Istanbul last year, Russia promised to comply, but progress has been slow.

Kubis says Russian negotiators now attempt to link the withdrawal with progress on the status of the breakaway Transdniestr region, which is largely inhabited by Russian speakers. Trandniestr broke away from Moldova in 1992, leading to heavy fighting.

Despite years of negotiations, the OSCE and other negotiators have been unable to achieve an agreement on the definition of a special status for Transdniestr. The OSCE summit meeting in Istanbul last year again accepted that Transdniestr should have a special status but at the same time OSCE reiterated its support for the sovereignty.

The OSCE leader says he believes peacekeeping and the settlement of disputes will remain the chief task of the organization in the years ahead. He said many countries had problems which required an independent viewpoint from international observers, and the OSCE was the organization best-prepared to do this.