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Armenia: Foreign Minister In Washington For Talks

The Foreign Minister of Armenia is in Washington on an official visit. The U.S. State Department says the discussions will focus on bilateral issues as well as the longstanding Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Azerbaijan. Our correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports.

Washington, 21 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanyan is in Washington on an official visit to discuss relations with the United States and the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Azerbaijan.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said today one key aspect of Oskanyan's trip is to discuss the upcoming peace talks concerning the disputed enclave. The talks are scheduled to take place in Key West, Florida, beginning 3 April. They will involve presidents Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia.

"The Armenian foreign minister is here on one of his periodic trips to the United States. The secretary welcomes the opportunity to meet with him. They'll talk about bilateral relations, including the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, the progress that's been made in the discussions, and the plans for the meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Key West next month."

Boucher said the meeting in Key West is expected to last four days. He said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will attend the initial discussions but expects to return to Washington the same day.

"It builds upon the direct dialogue that the leaders have had, built upon the work that they've done recently with (French) President (Jaques) Chirac, and we've also seen (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin supporting the recent efforts to move the process forward."

A State Department official told RFE/RL that Oskanyan's trip was previously scheduled and that there are no plans for his Azerbaijani counterpart to visit Washington prior to the Florida talks.

The talks are being sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and will be mediated by negotiators from the Minsk Group -- the U.S., Russia, and France.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed enclave located inside Azerbaijan and populated largely by ethnic Armenians. It declared independence in 1988, triggering a six-year conflict that killed an estimated 15,000 people and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.