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Armenia: Oskanian Says Karabakh Deal In Azerbaijan's Hands

By Harry Tamrazian

Key West, Florida; 6 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said late yesterday that the leadership of Azerbaijan holds the key to the success of the ongoing peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Oskanian, speaking to RFE/RL at the end of a third day of the talks in Key West, Florida, said separate sessions between international mediators and Armenian President Robert Kocharian are proceeding successfully and that a similar progress in the mediators' meetings with the Azerbaijani side could pave the way for a long-awaited breakthrough.

The U.S., Russian, and French efforts to push the peace process forward continued on 5 April in lengthy separate meetings with Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. Although no major breakthrough has been announced yet, the negotiating trio remains cautiously optimistic about chances of a framework peace agreement on the Armenian-controlled disputed enclave to be sealed on the tiny tropical island.

"As far as we are concerned, the meetings are proceeding in a normal way," Oskanian said. "And if there is a similarly positive movement with regard to Azerbaijan, I think that some progress might be made by Friday evening (6 April)."

Oskanian said the Armenian side is not informed yet about details of the intensive discussions between the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the Azerbaijani leader. "At this point it is hard to say whether we will leave this island with success. So far, I think things are moving in a positive direction."

Aliyev and Kocharian got together Thursday evening (5 April) for a schooner cruise off this island resort to wind down and watch the sunset after a day of meetings. This was their first face-to-face encounter since Tuesday's (3 April) official opening of the peace talks, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The opening session ended in a public exchange of verbal attacks between the two presidents, with Aliyev accusing the Armenians of "aggression" and "ethnic cleansing." Our correspondent reports that on 6 April the two presidents might have a face-to-face meeting.

Also on 5 April, journalists were shown a photograph of Kocharian pointing his finger to a map of Azerbaijan during the proximity talks with the mediators. He was visibly pointing to Azerbaijani districts currently controlled by Armenian forces. The return of those lands is one of the main issues in the negotiating process.

"We and the co-chairs have indeed worked very seriously on maps today," Oskanian said without elaborating. The Minsk Group troika has formed a group of border experts "equipped with everything," the minister added. Meanwhile, the prospect of the Key West talks continuing into next week is becoming more real, with some of the top diplomats having already extended their stay on the island beyond 8 April.