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Newsline - June 12, 2006

In the run-up to the July summit of leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries, finance ministers from those states met in St. Petersburg on June 9-10 but failed to make any breakthrough on issues related to energy policy, London's "Financial Times" reported on June 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and June 7 and 9, 2006). The ministers noted in their final communique that "the rate at which the global economy is growing remains high, and the growth base is expanding, but that there is a risk of a slowdown due to high and volatile energy prices and increasing global imbalances," Interfax reported. Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters that "we have discussed the most important problems of the world economy and finances, and first of all the economic and financial measures for the development of the world energy market." Referring to Western concerns that Russia is willing to use energy as a tool to achieve political goals, Roland Nash, chief strategist at Renaissance Capital, a Moscow-based investment bank, told the London daily that "when relationships are down, the only thing left is diplomacy. And when you have nothing concrete to say, the best thing is saying nothing." PM

European finance ministers at the June 9-10 meeting in St. Petersburg repeated their call for Russia to ratify the EU Energy Charter it signed in 1994, which would end Gazprom's monopoly over Russia's pipeline system, the "Financial Times" reported on June 12. Kudrin, in turn, called on June 10 for an "updating" of that document to include nuclear power and take into account "changes" that will result when some unnamed new EU member states cease to be transit countries, Interfax reported. He also noted what he called the "problem" of Ukraine siphoning off Russian export gas from the pipeline system. Russia failed during the talks to secure German agreement for its plans to repay its total debt to the Paris Club of creditor countries as soon as possible, dpa reported. Kudrin said nonetheless that he expects agreement on plans to repay $12 billion out of a total debt of $22 billion. PM

An unnamed "high-ranking cabinet source" told Interfax in Moscow on June 11 that the government objects to Finance Minister Kudrin's recent proposal for Gazprom to pay a new tax on its "windfall profits" stemming from rising energy costs. The source said that the government has not made a decision on the matter yet. He added that Gazprom needs some form of state "control due to its role and resources. [For its part,] the state has the right to expect its resources to be invested effectively and the right to give advice on how to use [those resources] correctly." The source suggested that Gazprom could use its growing income to invest in the electric-power sector or in offshore drilling. He cautioned the company against using the money to diversify its "portfolio of non-core assets, or to raise management salaries." In related news, Kudrin announced in St. Petersburg on June 10 that the government will provide an additional $7 billion for the cash-strapped electricity sector as part of the recently approved restructuring and break-up of the monopoly known as the Unified Energy Systems, the "Financial Times" reported on June 12. PM

Speaking on June 9 in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin reiterated his somewhat vague plans to greatly expand the role of nuclear power in the Russian economy in the coming decades, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, February 2, March 15,and May 31, 2006). Putin also reminded the meeting, which Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and several leading generals attended, that nuclear weapons are important for Russia's status as a world power. Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, argued that Russia must start work on two new reactors each year beginning in 2007 if it is to meet its goal of raising the share of nuclear power in the national total from 16 to 25 percent. Kiriyenko said on February 1 that Russia needs to build about 40 additional nuclear reactors in order to raise the share of nuclear power in total energy production to 25 percent, noting at that time that two reactors must be built each year starting in 2011 or 2012 to meet this goal. Russia currently has 31 nuclear reactors, many of which are old. Putin and Kiriyenko have also called for restoring Soviet-era energy ties between Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, albeit based on market principles. PM

Dmitry Oreshkin, who heads the Merkator group, told Interfax in Moscow on June 11 that implementing a reportedly Kremlin-backed proposal to drop the "against all" option from Russian ballots could discourage up to 18 percent of voters from taking part in elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2006). He argued that those opposed to the policies of State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov "and his supporters who bureaucratize our political life will be left with just one option, namely not going to the polling stations at all." Oreshkin argued that the "against all" option provides a good mirror of "the level of negative sentiments in society." He stressed that the combination of low turnouts in recent elections, together with the rise in popularity of the "against all" option, suggests that "political parties in their present form do not represent any real interests or influential groups." Many observers believe that the authorities want to eliminate the "against all" option prior to the 2007 legislative and 2008 presidential elections. Current legislation requires an election to be declared invalid if "against all" wins more votes than any one candidate. PM

An agronomist and a female bureaucrat were shot dead in separate incidents on June 9 in Ingushetia's Sunzha Raion, reported. Also on June 9, unidentified attackers opened fire on the car of OMON commander Musa Nalgiyev in Karabulak, killing him, his brother, his bodyguard, and his son and two daughters aged four, five, and six. LF

The pro-government Armenian parliament majority refused on June 9 to include in the agenda a demand by opposition factions to create two ad hoc commissions to investigate allegations of extensive vote-rigging during the presidential and parliamentary elections in February-March and May 2003, respectively, and the referendum last November on proposed constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2005). Rafik Petrosian, chairman of the parliament commission on legal affairs, argued that such a probe could call into question the legality of legislation enacted since passage of those amendments, for which the European Union and United States expressed prior support. LF

Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili met in Yerevan on June 9 with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and with Deputy Foreign Minister Gegham Garibdjanian, according to Caucasus Press and PanARMENIAN.Net as cited by Groong. The talks focused on unspecified topics of mutual interest, regional cooperation, and the deteriorating socioeconomic situation in Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Samtskhe-Djavakheti. Oskanian is to travel to Tbilisi for talks on June 27-28. LF

In separate interviews, Azerbaijani parliament deputies Asef Gaciyev and Anar Mamedkhanov have both rejected as untrue Armenian media reports that Azerbaijani parliament speaker Oktay Asadov conveyed his congratulations to Tigran Torosian on the occasion of the latter's election earlier this month as chairman of the Armenian parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). Gaciyev, who was one of two Azerbaijani parliamentarians who traveled to Yerevan for a session last week of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization's Parliamentary Assembly, was quoted on June 10 by as saying that Asadov sent no such congratulations, and that it is not customary for parliament speakers to do so. Mamedkhanov for his part characterized Asadov as "experienced" and "a patriot," and dismissed the Armenian reports as "a vile provocation," reported on June 9. LF

Mahmudali Chehraganli, one of the leaders of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement that represents Iran's large Azeri minority, was apprehended on June 9 by Turkish police on the grounds that his life was allegedly in danger and deported to Azerbaijan, his country of choice, reported on June 10. Chehraganli reportedly arrived in Turkey on June 5 from the United States, and told journalists there he planned to travel to Baku on June 16, whereupon Iran's ambassador in Baku, Afshar Suleymanli, commented that he does "not think that the Azerbaijani authorities will issue him a visa and permit him to carry on his work here" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2006). According to an unconfirmed report by the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on June 11, Azerbaijani National Security Ministry officials arrested Chehraganli in Baku late on June 10, together with his daughter who was accompanying him, and put them both on a plane to Dubai. LF

Police in Baku used force on June 9 to prevent some 50-100 members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) from congregating outside the city mayor's office to protest an attack on AHCP Deputy Chairman Bahaddin Haziyev, who is editor in chief of the newspaper "Bizim yol," and to demand that his assailants be arrested and tried, reported on June 10. Ten protesters were briefly detained and 20 injured in the fracas. Haziyev was abducted late on May 19 by five men who took him to the outskirts of Baku where they beat him, warned him to stop writing articles critical of the country's leaders, and drove over his legs, according to a Eurasia Net analysis of June 5. LF

Some 60 Georgian police officers apprehended an Ossetian named Alan Bazzaev in a special operation late on June 9 at his home in the village of Avnevi in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Georgian media reported. Bazzaev has been charged with producing and selling counterfeit U.S. dollars; police confiscated some $100,000 in fake bills found in his car. Major-General Marat Kulakhmetov, who commands the joint peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone, complained on June 10 that the Georgian Interior Ministry failed to inform him in advance of the planned operation. LF

Irakli Alasania, who is President Mikheil Saakashvili's special adviser for Abkhazia, briefed the Georgian Parliament on June 9 on the so-called Road Map for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Georgian media reported. Alasania said that plan consists of five paragraphs. The first defines Georgia as a federation of which Abkhazia is a part; the second envisages the unconditional return to Abkhazia of all Georgian displaced persons who fled during the 1992-93 war and measures to protect their safety and civil rights, including the opening in Gali of a UN human rights office; the third underscores Georgia's readiness to sign an agreement on the nonresumption of hostilities; and the fourth calls for assistance from international organizations in postconflict rehabilitation. The issue of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed in the conflict zone is not addressed. ITAR-TASS on June 9 quoted Alasania as saying Georgia is prepared to embark with Abkhazia on an "unbiased assessment" of the events that triggered the 1992-93 war. He conceded that some provisions of the plan may be unacceptable to the Abkhaz leadership, which last month unveiled its own detailed peace proposal, entitled "Key to the Future" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 12, 2006). LF

Speaking before an investment conference in Almaty, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev vowed on June 9 to "root out" corruption, Khabar TV reported. Nazarbaev announced that he intends to reduce the powers of state bodies and introduce greater transparency in the awarding of state contracts. Nazarbaev claimed that one of the "most important instruments" of state anticorruption strategy is Kazakhstan's 1998 law on civil service, which "contains efficient mechanisms for tackling corrupt practices of civil servants." Industry and Trade Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said that Kazakh accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been matched by significant increases in oil and gas exports and greater efficiency in the state-run energy sector. RG

After arriving in Beijing on a three-day state visit, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev met on June 9 with Chinese President Hu Jintao and signed a set of 13 new bilateral agreements on political, trade, and economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Bakiev expressed his readiness to "exert joint efforts aimed at fighting terrorism, separatism, and extremism." The two leaders also signed a new Joint Declaration articulating their countries' readiness to "cooperate in the struggle against all forms of terrorism, and to maintain interaction" with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). RG

Addressing a business forum in Beijing, President Bakiev pledged on June 10 to promote cooperation and facilitate Chinese investment into Kyrgyzstan in several key areas, including the mining, transport, energy, and telecommunications sectors, AKIpress reported. Bakiev added that Kyrgyzstan is most interested in the construction of the planned China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line, and he pledged to increase electricity supplies to meet the growing demand of China's western regions. RG

The Tajik Foreign Ministry issued a statement on June 10 protesting the recent assault on several Tajik students in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 9, 2006), ITAR-TASS reported. The diplomatic note called on the Russian authorities to launch an immediate investigation to "bring the perpetrators to justice" and "prevent such incidents" in the future. The attack on six Tajik students studying at Moscow's State Management University is the latest in a series of apparently racially motivated assaults targeting people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Officials of the Moscow Prosecutor-General's Office recently announced the arrest of a policeman on suspicion of beating the Tajik students and charged him with being "an active participant in the attack." RG

A court in the northern Tajik city of Khudzhand handed down on June 9 prison sentences to two men convicted of membership of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamists group, Asia-Plus and ITAR-TASS reported. The men were also initially charged with inciting racially and religiously motivated violence and with planning to "overthrow the constitutional system." They were sentenced to prison terms of 10 and 13 years. In the first five months of this year alone, more than 30 religious extremists have received prison sentences after being convicted for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was outlawed in Tajikistan in 2001; one-fourth of those convicted have been women. RG

Shavkat Shoimov, the deputy head of the Tojikgaz state gas concern, announced at a news conference in Dushanbe on June 9 that supplies of natural gas from Uzbekistan will resume by August, Asia-Plus reported. He added that the Uzbek cutoff of gas will end after Tajikistan pays "at least 50 percent" of the $3.5 million in arrears for earlier shipments of gas from Uzbekistan's Uztransgaz state gas concern. Tajikistan plans to increase its imports of Uzbek gas to an estimated 750 million cubic meters this year, despite the increase in price from last year's level of $42 to $55 per 1,000 cubic meters. After the suspension of natural-gas supplies earlier this year for its failure to pay its debt to Uzbekistan, the Tajik government instituted a limited rationing of gas, supplying only the larger of the country's industrial firms. RG

Members of Turkmenistan's Central Commission on Elections and Referendums met in Ashgabat on June 10 to prepare for upcoming local elections, Turkmen TV reported. The election for local councils, set for July 23, will feature the use of transparent ballot boxes for the first time in the country. The commission reported that polling stations throughout the country have received substantial campaign material and equipment, including reference guidebooks, office equipment, and communications equipment. RG

The press office of Gazprom has not confirmed or denied a press report that the Russian gas company wants Belarus to pay $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas beginning next year, Belapan reported on June 9. "We are in talks with Belarus. Our stance is that we should switch over to market prices next year. We do not confirm, deny, or comment on the figures that are aired in the process of the negotiations," the Gazprom press office told Belapan. The daily "Kommersant" reported on June 9 with reference to Gazprom deputy chief Aleksandr Ryazanov that the Russian company suggested $200 as next year's price for Belarus, a more than fourfold rise compared with the current price of $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters. The newspaper also quoted a source with the company as saying that the round of gas-price negotiations between Gazprom and the Belarusian government on June 1 failed to yield any agreements and strained relations between Minsk and Moscow. JM

Vinery Volchuha, deputy director of the Belarusian gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz, told Belapan on June 9 that his company has not received any documents from Gazprom proposing that next year's gas price for Belarus should amount to $200 per 1,000 cubic meters. Valchuha revealed that Belatranshaz received a draft gas-supply contract from Gazprom in mid-May, before the latest round of bilateral gas talks in Moscow on June 1, but added that the document does not mention any specific figures. Valchuha added that the draft contract includes a "European-style price formula with many Xs that should be somehow determined." Valchuha reiterated Minsk's official stance that, since Belarus and Russia are building a union state, Gazprom should adopt a "different approach" in its gas-pricing policy with regard to Belarus compared with other countries to which the company sells gas. JM

A group of U.S. reservists from a contingent of 225 flew home from Simferopol on June 11 without completing their mission in Crimea, UNIAN reported, quoting Ukrainian military sources. The remaining reservists are scheduled to leave the peninsula on June 12. The reservists arrived in Ukraine last month to upgrade a military training range near the Crimean port of Feodosiya, ahead of the planned multinational Sea Breeze 2006 exercise. The docking of a U.S. naval cargo ship in Feodosiya on May 27, which brought construction equipment and materials as well as small arms, has triggered continuing anti-NATO protests in the port and cast doubt on whether the exercise will be authorized by the Ukrainian parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2 and 8, 2006). JM

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said on June 11 that the coalition talks between his party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine on forming a new government have reached an impasse, UNIAN reported. According to Moroz, if President Viktor Yushchenko fails to intervene in the negotiation process, the talks will prove fruitless. "To conduct further talks with businessmen from politics, who represent Our Ukraine at the current moment, is devoid of any sense," the Socialist Party press service quoted Moroz as saying. Our Ukraine has reportedly agreed that Yuliya Tymoshenko should head the cabinet of ministers but wants current Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov to become parliamentary speaker. The Socialist Party, however, wants the post of parliament speaker for Moroz. Meanwhile, President Yushchenko said in a radio address to the nation on June 10 that he will not intervene in the coalition talks because he "does not want to form a coalition under pressure." "I think that the politician who aspires to the post of prime minister should shoulder the responsibility for coalition building," Yushchenko noted. JM

Martti Ahtisaari, the UN envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, has urged Serbs in the province to join its political institutions, Reuters reported on June 11. "In order to create a multiethnic society, it is crucial for Kosovo Serbs to participate in Kosovo institutions," Ahtisaari said after visiting the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica the same day. "I listened carefully to the concerns of the Serbs and I do believe that for their future it is in their interest [to have] a Serb influence in the process," he said. Serbian leaders in northern Kosova announced last week that they have cut ties with the authorities in Prishtina over a series of attacks against Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6 and 7, 2006). BW

Speaking on June 10 in Prishtina, Ahtisaari said talks on practical and technical issues must precede negotiations on Kosova's final status, dpa reported the same day. "The aim is for us to create, through decentralization and other meetings, better living conditions for all -- the majority at first, but also for minorities," the Beta news agency quoted Ahtisaari as saying. UN-backed talks between Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegations began in February, but have focused mainly on practical issues like decentralization of local authority. Serbian authorities, however, proposed last month that direct talks on final-status issues be launched. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 10 handed war crimes suspect Dragan Zelenovic over to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), dpa reported the same day. Russia turned Zelenovic over to Bosnia on June 8 after ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte sharply criticized Moscow for delaying the extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8 and 9, 2006). It is unclear why Russia transferred Zelenovic to Bosnia rather than directly to the ICTY. The ICTY indicted Zelenovic, a former Bosnian Serb policeman, in 1996 for atrocities after Serbian forces captured the town of Foca early in the 1992-95 war. In August 2005, Russian authorities detained Zelenovic, who was working in construction and living under an assumed name in Russia. BW

Moldovan officials said on June 9 that Chisinau's decision to lift visa requirements for EU citizens should be reciprocated, Reuters reported the same day. "Our deputies view the law adopted by parliament as a first step by Moldova that should generate measures in return from the EU," Alexander Barbov, head of the parliamentary press service, told Reuters. "Ideally, Moldova would like its citizens to be able to visit the EU without visas." Moldova's parliament passed legislation on June 8 allowing visa-free entry for 90 days for citizens of the EU, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Japan. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2007. BW

Transdniestrian parliament speaker Yevgeny Shevchuk said on June 10 that Moldova's criticism of a planned independence referendum in the breakaway region is "unjustified," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "Moldovan authorities do not want to take into account the opinion of [Transdniester's residents]," Shevchuk said. "Such a position is strange, to say the least, because a referendum is regarded in the whole world as a basic element of the democratic system in any state and a democratic method of making decisions." Shevchuk also criticized a proposal from Moldova, Ukraine, and the United States to replace Russian peacekeepers in the region with an international mission. Transdniestrian Foreign Minister Valeriu Litskai said on June 7 that Tiraspol will not back down in its quest for autonomy and views Montenegro's separation from Serbia as a model (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2006). BW

On June 4 and 5, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in Bucharest on the sidelines of a forum of Black Sea states to resume talks under the aegis of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

But the Bucharest talks, like the two presidents' previous meeting in Rambouillet in early February, failed to make progress on resolving what Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian subsequently called the most serious difference between the two sides.

All the officials involved in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, whether representing the conflict sides or the mediators, have remained tight-lipped in recent months over the precise issues under discussion. That atmosphere of confidentiality has been alleviated only by occasional enigmatic statements and disclosures. But the intensification of the Minsk Group's efforts in the wake of the February talks in Rambouillet also reflects a growing sense of urgency.

Armenia is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in 2007, and presidential elections are due in both countries in 2008. In the run-up to those elections, neither leadership dare agree to a humiliating concession that could alienate voters. For that reason, the Minsk Group co-chairs desperately want the two sides to agree on at least a preliminary draft accord before the perceived "window of opportunity" closes at the end of this year.

While the notion of a "window of opportunity" is now in question, it does reflect a very real linkage between the peace talks and the electoral cycle of all parties involved. And that linkage in turn reveals the rather troubling failure of both the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments to adequately engage and prepare their societies for any possible settlement.

A second disturbing factor is that the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) remains dangerously excluded from the top-level negotiations, relying instead on Armenian "good faith" and prudence to defend their interests. It seems only natural to presuppose at least a degree of divergence in the national interests of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

But notwithstanding "windows of opportunity," the ongoing talks and meetings are important in themselves to maintaining a degree of dialogue and engagement, and in demonstrating to the population of both countries their respective leaders' commitment to resolving the conflict on the most advantageous terms possible.

As noted above, two meetings within four months between Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev failed to yield progress on the most intractable difference between the two sides. "The issue the two presidents discussed and tried to solve is very complicated indeed," RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted Foreign Minister Oskanian as telling journalists in Yerevan on June 6. "This was the same issue that was put before the presidents at Rambouillet. It wasn't solved then and it wasn't solved now either."

Noyan Tapan quoted Oskanian as implying that reconciling the two sides' respective positions is all the more difficult because it requires a retreat from fundamental principles. But he said he will very probably meet again "very soon" with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov in a bid to narrow the differences between the two sides. Unconfirmed reports say such a meeting might take place as early as this week.

Oskanian failed to identify the pivotal issue that is precluding progress in the peace process, but statements by other officials substantiate the hypothesis that the nexus of the problem lies in the concessions each side is, or is not, ready to make.

Most analysts assume that the variant currently under discussion is that originally proposed in late 2004 by NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Pierre Lellouche and former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. That plan envisages a compromise settlement that would give Armenia temporary control of the unrecognized NKR in exchange for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territory, with the final status of Karabakh to be determined by its inhabitants in a referendum in five or 10 years' time. The International Crisis Group unveiled a similar plan last fall (

The major obstacle to either of those plans is that Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly ruled out any solution that does not preserve the country's territorial integrity. They would therefore be reluctant to permit a referendum on the future status of the NKR in which the predominantly Armenian population would doubtless opt for independence. Indeed, the current constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic expressly precludes holding a referendum on altering the country's borders. On June 6,, as cited by Groong, quoted Mammadyarov as stressing that point, and also as arguing that not only the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also its former Azerbaijani community, should be given autonomy under any peace settlement.

As for Armenia, the real question is whether, when, and in return for what reciprocal concession from Azerbaijan it should relinquish its sole bargaining chip by withdrawing from the seven districts of Azerbaijan contiguous to the NKR that have been occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces since 1993. Yerevan reportedly has no objection to freeing five of those districts -- Jebrayil, Fizuli, Zangelan, Agdam and Gubadla -- but has been reluctant to cede control of the strategic Lachin corridor that serves as the sole overland road link between the NKR and Armenia, or the neighboring Kelbajar district. (Retaining such a lifeline is one of the three key tenets of the Armenian negotiating position.)

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Daniel Fried's comment in Bucharest on June 5 that "we would like to see the return of as much territory as possible to Azerbaijan as soon as possible and the return of Azerbaijanis to their native villages" implies precisely such a disagreement between the two sides over how many districts Armenia will cede and the time frame for doing so. And the Karabakh leadership may well take a harder line than Yerevan on any withdrawal from occupied territory, thereby narrowing the Armenian room for maneuver.

In that respect, progress in resolving the conflict may ultimately hinge on the ability of the OSCE -- or the international community in general -- in providing long-term guarantees (in the form of an international peacekeeping force) of the security of both the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijanis who will be enabled to return to the villages in surrounding districts from which they fled in 1992-93.

Two members of the Afghan National Assembly were killed and two others injured by a mine explosion south of the Afghan capital on June 11, Herat-based Sada-ye Jawan Radio reported. The report claimed that the press officer at the Afghan Interior Ministry confirmed the incident, but did not identify any dead or injured lawmakers. AT

Four Pakistani nationals working for an Indian construction company were shot in Kandahar Province on June 10, Geo News television reported on June 11. The bodies of the workers were reportedly handed over to family members in Chaman, a Pakistani border town. The unidentified attackers took a large amount of cash and the Pakistanis' vehicle. Some reports have described the victims as being Afghan nationals. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings. AT

A U.S. soldier on joint patrol with the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Ghazni Province's Andar district was killed on June 11 when the vehicle he was in struck an explosive device, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces, confirmed that a "coalition soldier" was killed in Ghazni. Mullah Helal, purporting to be the local Taliban commander, claimed responsibility for attack. On May 31, the ANA, along with the Afghan police and the coalition forces, launched a joint military operation codenamed Desert Lions in Ghazni to counter the increasing violence by neo-Taliban fighters in the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2006). AT

A British soldier was killed and two other soldiers wounded by suspected neo-Taliban forces in Helmand Province on June 11, "The Guardian" reported on June 12. The soldier was killed in Sangin, a small town that came under neo-Taliban control earlier this year. The soldier is the U.K. forces' first death in action since Britain began deploying its forces in Helmand in May as part of NATO's expansion of the International Security Assistance Force. AT

Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak for the Taliban, has claimed that the three Arab prisoners who were reportedly found dead at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on June 10 were killed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on June 11. U.S. officials have said the three -- two Saudis and one Yemeni -- committed suicide. Mohammad Hanif claimed that the prisoners "have not committed suicide," according to AIP, but rather "the Americans killed them." Committing suicide "is prohibited in Islam," he said. Mohammad Hanif distinguished between a "suicide attack," which he called a "matter of pride" by a "mujahed" carrying out jihad, and suicide. He said a "mujahed" would not "resort to suicide because of difficulties and problems." Mohammad Hanif told AFP on June 11 that a "mujahed is committed to struggle to the last moment of his life." AT

Iran's ranking nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said in Cairo on June 11 that the offer by six major powers on its nuclear program, which may include technology transfers and other incentives in exchange for a freeze by Iran on sensitive fuel-making activities, is "positive" but sections on uranium enrichment need clarification, Reuters reported the same day. Iran has repeated that it has a right to make nuclear fuel. Critics want Iran to drop the fuel-making process because of its potential bomb-making applications. In Tehran on June 11, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iran will examine Western proposals "and prepare our proposals," for which no deadline has been set, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 12. He said Iran accepts some of the proposals it has read and considers others "ambiguous" and others "unnecessary," the daily added. Iran will not drag out this process, Assefi said, but it needs time to examine the proposals. The contents of the Western package of proposals have not been officially disclosed. VS

A member of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Rashid Jalali-Ja'fari, said in Tehran on June 11 that Iran will not "cross its red line" -- that is, the cessation of uranium enrichment -- unless any suspension is temporary and limited "and does not endanger Iran's national interests," ISNA reported the same day. Many Iranian officials have rejected a suspension of enrichment outright. Jalali-Ja'fari said that Iran has "absolutely no intention of setting aside this technology," but he added that if Western proposals "are such that the suspension of enrichment helps national interests," there would be "no problem" accepting suspension "for a short time." Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said separately that Europe's "return to negotiations is a victory for Iran, Europe, and international bodies," ILNA reported on June 11. He said the return to talks shows Europe's "independence," while the resolution of international crises through diplomacy boosts the credibility of international bodies. Iranian officials, he said, will certainly respond to recent EU proposals on Iran's nuclear program, ILAN reported. VS

Hadi Qabel, a member of the reformist Participation Front, told ILNA on June 11 that he was certain reformers will agree on a limited number of candidates for elections to the Assembly of Experts -- a senior body of clerics -- due on November 17. He expressed hope that a consensus would end existing divisions among reformist parties, and allow for a reformist alliance in local council elections after the Experts polls. A former deputy interior minister, Mahmud Mirluhi, told ISNA the same day that divisions have been the principal cause of reformist defeats in the country's last three elections. A consensus, he said, is "the only...suitable strategy" for reformers if they wish to compete in coming elections, while continued discord is a "gift to...rivals." He said that Expediency Council chief Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a key regime official usually considered a conservative, is now a reformer. "Given the conduct of conservatives, Hashemi's sidelining and recent Qom incidents, he must be placed in the reformist camp," he said. Rafsanjani was heckled -- apparently by right-wing radicals -- as he spoke in Qom on June 5. VS

A deputy head of Iran's state customs authority told Fars News Agency on June 11 that Iran will raise tariffs on a number of imported goods in a move that it quotes a prominent businessman as describing as contradictory with Iran's stated bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Mahmud Beheshtian suggested import duties will be raised on mobile telephones, household durables, clothes, textiles, meat, fruit products such as juice concentrate, and sugar, Fars reported. In the case of silk, he said, the increase is tenfold. But Masud Daneshmand, a businessman and member of the Iran Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told IRNA that such moves threaten to sidetrack Iran's accession to the WTO and contradict its public welcome of WTO observer status. Higher duties are an injustice to Iranian consumers, Daneshmand said, and the government can back domestic producers through other means, such as long-term, interest-free loans. Separately, the agriculture jihad minister -- who oversees Iran's rural-development programs -- informed legislators on June 11 that Iran intends to be self-sufficient in rice production "in the next three years," ISNA reported. Mohammad Reza Eskandari said every Iranian currently consumes an average 36-37 kilograms of rice per year. VS

Prominent Iranian oppositionist Mohsen Sazegara told Radio Farda on June 11 that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has become increasingly involved in large-scale economic and construction projects in the past 15 years and is moving away from its initial mission as a popular army to defend Iran and its post-1979 revolutionary regime. He said the most recent example is a $1.3 billion project -- signed last week between the IRGC and the National Iranian Gas Company, which is affiliated with the Oil Ministry -- whereby the IRGC will build a pipeline to transport gas from Assaluyeh in southern Iran to the eastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The IRGC is reportedly implementing 247 other "economic projects," Radio Farda added, quoting IRGC commander Abdolreza Abedzadeh. Sazegara, who was imprisoned in Iran in 2003 for his open advocacy of a secular, democratic system and now resides in Washington, said the IRGC's power and close ties to the state effectively nullify domestic competition for projects. The IRGC has become a "full-blown party" involved in various private and public activities, he told Radio Farda. VS

Iraqi and U.S. authorities freed a second group of 230 Iraqi detainees on June 11, AP reported the same day. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised to release 2,500 prisoners by the end of June as a gesture of goodwill toward the Sunnis, who comprise the majority of detainees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7 and 8, 2006). Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, addressed the newly freed detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. "This campaign [of releasing prisoners] won't stop at U.S. prisons but [will continue] to the prisons run by the Interior and Defense ministries," AP quoted him as saying on June 11. Lieutenant Colonel Kier-Kevin Curry, a spokesman for U.S. military detainee operations, said that 14,300 people remain in custody in coalition detention facilities. BAW

In a statement posted on the Internet on June 11, Al-Qaeda promised to carry out "major attacks" following the June 7 killing of its leader in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, AP reported. The statement said that Al-Qaeda decided to "prepare, in coordination with the other components" of the Mujahedin Shura Council, "great operations that will shake the enemy," AFP reported on June 11. President Jalal Talabani told reporters on June 11 that al-Zarqawi's death will not end violence but will create "divisions within the armed groups," AFP reported the same day. Meanwhile, a security team headed by Prime Minister al-Maliki is working on a plan to bring security to Baghdad. New Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir Muhammad Jasim told AP on June 11 that he will "unveil a security plan this week." Also, the U.S. military arrested seven men in Kirkuk suspected of being members of the Mujahedin Shura Council, AFP reported on June 11. BAW

The Iraqi National Assembly's meeting scheduled for June 11 was delayed for a week as its members could not reach a compromise on the powers invested in the parliament's speaker, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on June 11. The United Iraqi Alliance, the Kurdistan Coalition, and the Iraqi National List want to restrict the powers of the speaker and subordinate him to the Presidency Council. The Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, to which current speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani belongs, has called for more authority for the speaker. BAW

Parliament speaker al-Mashhadani and Deputy Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmad bin Hilli told reporters on June 11 that the Iraqi national-accord conference will be postponed until further notice, the Voices of Iraq news website reported the same day. The conference was scheduled for the end of June. Bin Hilli told reporters that the conference has international and Arabic support, but that the new Iraqi government needs more time to be able to successfully stage the event. Al-Mashhadani added that the conference's success is contingent on "the participation of all Iraqi sides." BAW

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), on June 11 repeated his demand to form a federal region in the middle and south of Iraq, "Al-Zaman" reported on June 12. Speaking at a conference in Al-Najaf to members of SCIRI, its Badr Brigades armed wing, and Hizballah, he said that forming such a region would advance reform and stability in Iraq. Al-Hakim said that creating the region is a goal and "no means should be spared to achieve it." Many Sunnis oppose forming such a federal region, because they believe it could lead to the partitioning of Iraq, according to "Al-Zaman." BAW

Drilling by the Norwegian oil company DNO in Dohuk Governorate has led to the discovery of oil near Zakho, the Kurdish regional government announced on its website on June 11. DNO started prospecting for oil in the region in November 2005 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," December 5, 2005). "I am pleased to announce that commercially recoverable quantities of oil have been discovered following the drilling of an exploratory well in the Tawke structure. The well has been tested at 5,000 barrels a day of good-quality oil from one of the upper zones of interest," Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami of the newly united regional government said. "We anticipate production by early 2007." BAW