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Newsline - June 30, 2006

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries met in Moscow on June 29 to map out the agenda for the July 15-17 St. Petersburg summit, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2006). Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated the discussions. The ministers called on Iran to give a "clear and substantive response" to the proposal made on June 6 by the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany (see Part 3 below).U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters after the meeting that "we expect a response from Iran...a serious response.... The statement also expresses some disappointment that we have not yet heard from the Iranians on what we consider to be a very favorable offer." The ministers also urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise "utmost restraint" in the escalating conflict caused by the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. Rice voiced concern over recent Russian moves to tighten control over NGOs and independent media. She also said that the international community is worried about the reliability of Russian energy supplies following the recent Ukrainian gas crisis. "This is not just a concern that the United States has had, it is a concern that has been there in global markets and from some of the partners," she added. PM

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on June 29 regarding the recent killing of one Russian diplomat and three embassy staffers in Iraq, Russian and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and 29, 2006). The United States and United Kingdom blocked an earlier version submitted by Russia because the text blamed coalition forces for the murders. The revised text says that the council "underlines the importance of continuing the efforts of the government of Iraq and the Multinational Force in combating terrorism and improving security in Iraq." The resolution did not contain an earlier Russian reference to improving the security for "foreign diplomatic missions in Iraq and their staff," which the United States reportedly did not feel should be singled out at the expense of other aspects of the overall security situation. PM

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on June 30 that Ukraine's Progress company supplied China and Iran with six long-range cruise missiles each in 2000-01, RIA Novosti reported. "This is the grossest violation of the control regime over missile technologies," Ivanov said. He added the deal was conducted via a Cyprus-based company, but declined to reveal its name or what the missiles cost. He said that each sale involved six Soviet Kh-55 Granat cruise missiles, which are known to NATO as AS-15 Kent. He charged that this has been the only violation of the nonproliferation regime in the Commonwealth of Independent States. "Russia has been working to coordinate efforts in the nonproliferation sphere with its CIS partners and within the [Collective Security Treaty Organization]," Ivanov added. PM

The State Duma on June 30 approved a Kremlin-backed proposal to drop the "against all" option from Russian ballots, reported. The bill passed in a 347-87 vote on its third and final reading and goes to President Vladimir Putin for his signature. Supporters say it will prompt voters to take the political process more seriously. Many observers believe, however, that the authorities want to eliminate the "against all" option in the run-up 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, as has indeed happened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 12, 2006). According to the daily "Gazeta" of June 13, "against all" received 4.7 percent of the vote in the Duma elections of 2003 and 3.4 percent in the presidential vote of 2004. In 2005, "against all" took up to 18 percent of the vote and placed third or fourth in regional elections in Ryazan, Voronezh, and Vladimir. A by-election in Bryansk was declared invalid because "against all" won. PM

A spokeswoman for the Federal Agency for Industry (Rosprom) said on June 29 that the agency has drafted plans to unite the leading makers of tanks and other heavy machinery into a single holding company, "The Moscow Times" reported on June 30. "The holding -- along the lines of shipbuilding or aircraft-manufacturing holdings -- [will help] save enterprises that are not in the best shape," she added. The Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported on June 29 that Rosprom has drafted a proposal to bring together 20 leading heavy-machinery producers into such a holding. The daily noted that some of the companies -- such as the Perm-based Motovilikha Plant, which makes artillery systems -- are not majority-owned by the state and will have to be forced into the holding. The paper asked why such a move is necessary. Other candidates include the Nizhny Tagil-based tank manufacturer Uralvagonzavod, which also makes rolling stock, and the Yekaterinburg-based Uraltransmash, which produces not just motorized heavy artillery but also trams. Rosprom's proposal is in keeping with the trend under President Putin for key branches of the economy to be concentrated in large state-run corporations, which the "Financial Times" of June 19 described as a "corporate state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, and June 14, 19, and 28, 2006). PM

Gazprombank officials said on June 29 that the bank has obtained a 51 percent stake in Sibneftegaz, the owner of the large Beregovoye field in western Siberia, Gazprom's production base, from the independent gas producer Itera for an undisclosed sum, "The Moscow Times" reported on June 30. The field has been lying idle because Gazprom refused Sibneftegaz access to its pipeline network. The daily noted that Gazprom is continuing to take over independent producers and that its previous acquisitions were North Gas and Novatek. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Interfax on June 29 that "we can finally build civilized and real partnerships with independent gas producers." PM

London's "The Guardian" reported on June 30 that the "Russian authorities have refused to grant legal status to 40 foreign NGOs which submitted paperwork to the Justice Ministry under stringent new legislation that requires them to register by October 18. Some Western NGOs have said the new law will force their closure." A ministry spokesman said that the rejections stem from "the negligent filling in of forms." But Alison Gill, who heads Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, said, "The regulations themselves are not transparent and involve such discretion that compliance is impossible if they [officials] want it to be" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 18, and 20, 2006). PM

The Constitutional Court ruled on June 30 that central authorities cannot make regional "entities" transfer property to federal control without the consent of the entity in question, Interfax reported. "Such a transfer does not include the forceful expropriation of property owned by the entity," the court concluded. PM

The State Duma voted on June 30 to create the Kamchatka Krai, which resulted from the voter-approved merger in 2005 of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25 and 31, 2005). The entity will officially come into being on July 1, 2007. The unification project is part of a Kremlin-sponsored initiative to create larger administrative regions, which could presumably be more easily controlled. The unification project contrasts sharply with the admonition to the regions of former President Boris Yeltsin in the early 1990s to "take as much sovereignty as you can swallow." PM

Ibragim Korigov, 40, was detained on June 28 at the Ingushetian government building where he works as a guard, reported. Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service officials subsequently searched his home in the village of Sagopshi in Malgobek Raion and confiscated several copies of the Koran. An unnamed senior official in the office of Ingushetia's mufti condemned the detention on June 29, characterizing Korigov as a peaceable and erudite, with a profound interest in Islam. The same official rejected reports that Korigov had contacts with militants or that he may have participated in the June 2004 raids on police and security facilities across Ingushetia. Korigov's fellow villagers similarly rejected that hypothesis. On June 29, reported that Korigov is no longer in Ingushetia and may have been taken for interrogation to Vladikavkaz. Korigov is said to have been a close friend of Rashid Ozdoyev, the Ingushetian procuracy official who disappeared in the spring of 2004 after compiling a dossier on possible police involvement in some 40 recent abductions and disappearances, and who is believed to have been executed (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 28, 2004). LF

Stanislav Kesayev, who is deputy speaker of the Republic of North Ossetia parliament, has dismissed as "delirium" the proposal for resolving the conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia over Prigorodny Raion which the Ingushetian parliament recently sent to President Putin and other top Russian officials, reported on June 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2006). The website quoted Kesayev as having told Alan Besolov, an Ossetian correspondent for the website Kavkazsky uzel, that the North Ossetian authorities have not received a written copy of that proposal from the Ingush leadership, but are familiar with its content from the Internet. Besolov quoted several Ossetian experts as arguing that the Ingushetian proposal, which would restore the disputed district to Ingushetia's jurisdiction, is likely to fuel mutual enmity and tension. Meanwhile, police protection for Ingush who have returned to villages in Prigorodny Raion from which they fled during the fighting in October-November 1992 has been intensified, reported on June 29. LF

Vartan Oskanian on June 29 explained to journalists in Yerevan additional nuances of the "negotiating document" on resolving the Karabakh conflict, the broad outline of which has been made public over the past eight days by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian said that document is "all-encompassing," in that it covers all the principles affecting resolution of the conflict. Asked to clarify the co-chairs' reference to "special modalities" for Lachin and Kelbacar, Oskanian explained that the negotiating text specifies that "there will be a [Lachin] corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia." He added that Armenia will insist that that corridor "has the same status" as Karabakh. Oskanian also explained that due to security considerations, "Kelbacar can be returned only after the referendum is conducted and the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh is determined." He said that is the point of disagreement between the two sides to which the co-chairs referred in their statement to the OSCE Permanent Council last week. Oskanian said that the "principles" stipulate that the vote on Karabakh's status will take place among the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Some Armenian opposition politicians have expressed concern that the entire population of Azerbaijan would participate in the referendum and vote against Karabakh's independence. LF

Arman Melikian, who is an aide to Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on June 29 that the Minsk Group co-chairmen are to blame for the deadlock in the Karabakh peace process and should not try to shift the blame for that deadlock on to Armenia and Azerbaijan. "Failure to include important provisions into the proposals [made by the Minsk Group] inevitably led to a fiasco," Melikian said, adding that "the current negotiating process does not seem to be aimed at finding a solution." LF

Eldar Mamedaliyev, who for 10 years headed the intelligence section of the National Security Ministry, has been arrested and his home searched, and reported on June 29 and 30, respectively. Mamedaliyev was dismissed from the ministry six months ago; quoted unnamed former colleagues who expressed a low opinion of his professional qualities. LF

Mirza Sakit Zahidov of the opposition daily "Azadliq," who was arrested on June 23 on drug charges that his colleagues believe were fabricated, was allowed to met with his lawyer Elchin Gambarov on June 29 after being refused permission to do so the previous day, reported on June 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and 29, 2006). LF

Police used force on June 28 to evict a group of Georgian internally displaced persons (IDPs) from two hotels in Batumi where they have lived since fleeing Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, Caucasus Press reported on June 29. The hotels have been sold to a Kazakh developer. The displaced persons were offered the equivalent of $7,000 in compensation, but up to 100 of them claim that sum is not adequate to secure alternative housing, and they set out on June 29 to walk to the Abkhaz border with the aim of reclaiming their former homes in Abkhazia. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, reportedly one of the wealthiest women in Georgia, criticized that move, arguing that the displaced persons should sacrifice their personal considerations in the name of national interests. "I wish we could have offered them more compensation," she is reported to have added. Temur Mzhavia, who heads the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, in turn condemned Burdjanadze's remarks as "outrageous," Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz authorities turned the displaced persons back at the internal border on the River Inguri, and they have been bussed back to Batumi, Caucasus Press reported on June 30. LF

Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov told the newspaper "Vremya" that highly placed officials are at risk in a series of ongoing investigations, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on June 29. Mukhamedzhanov said that the "schemes" under investigation typically involve "an organized crime group made up of gangsters, middle management at big companies, cover by law-enforcement agencies, and, finally, 'protection' from very high-ranking officials who ensure political cover for the whole scheme." Mukhamedzhanov added: "I think that we will soon provide information on a number of major cases. I don't want to get into any more detail, but the revelations will be big." Mukhamedzhanov stressed that the investigations do not involve the opposition. He described the targets as "large industrial enterprises and financial-industrial groups." DK

Erzhan Utembaev, former head of the administration of Kazakhstan's Senate and the top suspect in the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006), told a court in Taldykorgan on June 29 that he recants his confession that he ordered Sarsenbaev's killing, Navigator reported. Interior Minister Mukhamedzhanov earlier charged that Utembaev contracted Rustam Ibragimov to kill Sarsenbaev out of personal animosity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2006). In his testimony on June 29, Utembaev denied the validity of the motive and his involvement in Sarsenbaev's murder. DK

Kazakhstan's Senate (upper chamber of parliament) voted on June 29 in favor of controversial amendments to the country's media law, Khabar reported. Culture and Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev, whose ministry proposed the changes, told the Senate that the amendments are based on the idea that "the process of control and regulation should not be weakened on the part of the state." He stressed that state regulation of the media is "intimately connected with the principles of national security." Opponents of the changes, which drew sharp criticism from journalists and international watchdog organizations, have argued that they will negatively impact freedom of speech (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 6, and 14, 2006). The changes now await President Nursultan Nazarbaev's signature to become law. DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on June 29 to recommend to the cabinet that it form a commission to consider the state seizure of property belonging to the family of former President Askar Akaev, reported. The recommendation followed a June 27 report by former Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov, who told parliament that 80 percent of those charged in connection with corruption cases following Akaev's fall from power in March 2005 have been acquitted and many cases have been closed. DK

Jumaboy Niyazov, deputy head of the opposition Democratic Party, said in Dushanbe on June 29 that the continued detention of party leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov in the Justice Ministry's pretrial detention facility is a violation of the law, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Iskandarov received a 23-year prison term in October 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 2005), but he has not yet been transferred to an ordinary prison. Under Tajik law, Iskandarov should have been transferred out of pretrial detention a week after his sentencing. Niyazov stressed that in the pretrial detention facility Iskandarov does not have the opportunities for exercise and meetings with relatives that he would have in a regular prison. DK

Talks in Ashgabat on June 29 between Aleksei Miller, chairman of the Russian state-controlled gas concern Gazprom, and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov over 2007 gas shipments were "broken off" after the sides "failed to reach an agreement" when Turkmenistan offered a price of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters for 2007 shipments and additional 2006 shipments -- nearly a 50 percent increase in the current price -- Gazprom stated in a press release. Turkmenistan's official TDH news agency reported that the talks focused on additional 2006 shipments of 25 billion cubic meters (bcm) and 2007 shipments of 50 bcm, all at $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. It stressed that Turkmenistan will finish deliveries of the previously contracted 30 bcm at $65 per 1,000 cubic meters by September 2006, after which it will halt shipments to Russia "because of the absence of a contract for the second half of the current year and for 2007." DK

The breakdown in talks came as a 20-member Ukrainian delegation headed by Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov arrived in Ashgabat on June 29 for talks the next day, reported. Plachkov told Kyiv-based Channel 5 on June 27 that he will try to work out a deal for 12 billion cubic meters of gas at $60 per 1,000 cubic meters in line with a contract signed in late December 2005. That contract was superseded by a January 4 agreement between Russia and Ukraine under which Ukraine obtained Turkmen gas in the first half of 2006 through intermediary Rosukrenergo, owned half by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen, at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. DK

Opposition youth activist Artur Finkevich left Minsk on June 29 for Mahilyou, where penitentiary authorities are to determine where he will serve his "restricted-freedom" term, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. In May, Finkevich was sentenced to two years of enforced labor for spraying antipresidential graffiti on walls in the Belarusian capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2006). "Restricted-freedom" punishment, known in post-Soviet prison slang as "khimiya," means that a convict has to live in a sort of prison barracks, work for a specified enterprise or organization in a designated area, and report to the barracks administration at an appointed time every day. Three other Belarusian oppositionists are currently serving "restricted-freedom" terms: Mikola Statkevich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2005), Pavel Sevyarynets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2005), and Andrey Klimau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2005). JM

The Belarusian Justice Ministry has condemned the European Union's visa ban against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 36 other Belarusian officials as illegal and demanded it be lifted, Belapan reported on June 29. In April, the EU foreign ministers imposed a travel ban on more than 30 Belarusian officials deemed responsible for rigging March's presidential election and cracking down on opposition activists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10 and 11, 2006). The ministry said in a statement that the travel ban contravenes the United Nations Charter, the 1970 Declaration of the Principles of International Law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1966 International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "Unfortunately, the principle of double standards, reluctance in some cases to possess full and true information about the country and the Belarusian people do not contribute to the formation of an objective opinion about Belarus in EU countries," the ministry notes. JM

Leaders of the ruling coalition -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- are ready to sit at the negotiating table with the Party of Regions on July 3, Ukrainian media reported on June 30, quoting Roman Bezsmertnyy from Our Ukraine. Lawmakers from the Party of Regions have been blocking the parliamentary session chamber for several days in protest against what they see as an unlawful scheme to appoint the prime minister and parliamentary speaker and the opposition's failure to offer the opposition sufficient positions on legislative committees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2006). Bezsmertnyy told journalists on June 30 that the ruling coalition will not accept any ultimatums during such negotiations. Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych earlier announced that the blockade of the parliamentary chamber will be continued until the coalition parties give up their proposal to approve the prime minister and parliament speaker via a single, open ballot. President Viktor Yushchenko on June 29 also called for talks to solve the current parliamentary impasse. If the Verkhovna Rada fails to approve a new cabinet by July 25, Yushchenko will have the right to disband the legislature elected on March 26. JM

During a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbian President Boris Tadic said on June 29 that Belgrade opposes secessionism by Republika Srpska just as it opposes independence for Kosova, Reuters reported the same day. "Serbia does not want the political and economic destruction of Bosnia," Tadic said in Sarajevo. "My principle is not to put in question the survival of existing states both when it comes to Serbia and to Bosnia-Herzegovina," he added. Tadic declined to say whether his stance will change if the West grants Kosova independence. Analysts and politicians have said that independence for Kosova could encourage secessionist tendencies in Republika Srpska. "I would not like to draw any parallels between Bosnia and Kosovo," Tadic said. "I do not like to even think about independence for Kosovo." BW

In his farewell address to Kosova's parliament on June 29, outgoing UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) head Soren Jessen-Petersen urged the ethnic Albanian majority to protect Serbs' rights once they achieve independence, Reuters reported the same day. "I know the goal of the majority is independence, and I count on you as you realize your dream that it becomes a dream to be shared by all communities," he said. "The realization of your dream must not be a nightmare for others." Jessen-Petersen leaves office on June 30 after two years as head of the UNMIK. BW

Also on June 29, Jessen-Petersen said that Kosova's final status needs to be settled quickly, dpa reported the same day. "It is absolutely crucial that the status should be settled this year," he said at a farewell news conference in Prishtina. Jessen-Petersen also downplayed fears that Serbs will leave the province en masse, sparking a refugee crisis, should Kosova win independence. "I don't expect the Kosovo Serbs to leave after the status settlement.... There will be a few who will want to leave, but no major exodus is going to happen after the status is resolved," he said. BW

Serbia's Supreme Court has found that the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic ordered the killing of communist-era President Ivan Stambolic, Reuters reported on June 29. "The primary court defined and showed, and the Supreme Court also accepts, that Slobodan Milosevic gave an order for the murder of Stambolic and Draskovic as his political opponents," the Supreme Court said in a finding dismissing an appeal by the police officers who carried out the killing. "This has been defined through statements of indictees ... and witnesses," it added. The August 2000 killing of Stambolic was carried out by eight secret policemen, who were found guilty last year. They were also convicted of the attempted murder earlier in 2000 of then-opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, who is now Serbia's foreign minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2006). BW

Rasim Ljajic, head of Serbia's Hague Cooperation Council, has said Belgrade should not overestimate the effectiveness of foreign agents in the hunt for war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, AP reported on June 29. "The cooperation with foreign agencies is important, but it should be placed in a realistic frame," Ljajic said. He noted that NATO and EU forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina have not been able to locate fugitive Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic. Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said on June 25 that Belgrade should invite foreign security services to help arrest Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006). Meanwhile, Minister for Local Government Zoran Loncar said on June 29 that the government is drafting an "action plan" to locate and capture Mladic, AP reported. BW

Transdniester's State Security Minister Vladimir Antyufeyev on June 28 accused Moldovan agents of trying to destabilize the breakaway region, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "The Security Ministry's officers are keeping a watchful eye on the activities of the Moldovan special services and will not beat around the bush," Antyufeyev said. He also defended the arrest of five Moldovan police officers by Transdniester's special forces on June 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19 and 26, 2006). Antyufeyev said the policemen "were arrested in an attempt to abduct a Moldovan opposition leader" and were released "after Chisinau ensured that it will stop subversion activities against us." Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin visited the policemen after their release and described their arrest as "legal arbitrariness," ITAR-TASS reported. BW

Lifting the veil of confidentiality that has marked the Karabakh peace process since it began in 1992, the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group tasked with mediating a solution to the conflict have over the past eight days gone public with a summary of the basic principles currently under discussion. While the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has confirmed that those principles are largely acceptable, its Armenian counterpart has highlighted several points that were either not clarified or not discussed in the interview U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza gave on June 22 to RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services.

Meanwhile, the Karabakh Armenian leadership has rejected one point on which Armenia and Azerbaijan have reportedly reached agreement, namely holding a referendum on the future political status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The Karabakh Armenians have further signaled their reluctance to cede all the Azerbaijani districts they currently occupy before a firm agreement is reached on the future status of the NKR.

Over the 14 years that the Minsk Group has been trying to mediate a political solution to the Karabakh conflict, those involved have generally abided by a "gentlemen's agreement" that the negotiating process should remain confidential. The rationale for doing so is primarily to avoid derailing the peace process by alerting the public in one or other country to unpalatable concessions required that opposition parties might seize upon to discredit national leaders prepared to accept those concessions.

But the co-chairs, who have on several previous occasions deplored the failure of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents to prepare public opinion for inevitable concessions, seem to have concluded that going public may encourage the two presidents to demonstrate what they term "the necessary political courage" and agree at least to the basic principles of a settlement before the perceived window of opportunity for doing so closes with the approach of parliamentary elections in Armenia in May 2007.

The basic principles, as outlined in a statement by the co-chairs on June 22 to the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna and posted on June 28 on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, point to a "phased-package" approach to resolving the conflict, meaning that the various elements of a settlement are agreed on simultaneously, even though they are implemented successively, with one key aspect -- the final status of the NKR -- to be decided by "a referendum or vote" at some unspecified future date.

"These principles include the phased redeployment of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, with special modalities for Kelbacar and Lachin districts [separating Karabakh from Armenia proper]," the co-chairs said. "Demilitarization of those territories would follow. A referendum or popular vote would be agreed, at an unspecified future date, to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh."

"An international peacekeeping force would be deployed," added the statement. "A joint commission would be agreed to implement the agreement. International financial assistance would be made available for de-mining, reconstruction, resettlement of internally displaced persons in the formerly occupied territories and the war-affected regions of Nagorno-Karabakh. The sides would renounce the use or threat of use of force, and international and bilateral security guarantees and assurances would be put in place."

Those provisions correspond very largely to the ones contained in the draft peace settlement proposed by the Minsk Group in May-July 1997, the key difference being that the 1997 document contained no specific mention of Kelbacar.

The mediators said the conflicting parties would also have to work out practical modalities of the Karabakh referendum. "Suitable preconditions for such a vote would have to be achieved so that the vote would take place in a non-coercive environment in which well-informed citizens have had ample opportunity to consider their positions after a vigorous debate in the public arena."

In a statement released on June 26, the Armenian Foreign Ministry highlighted further key details and omissions. It noted that the co-chairs' statement did not note the need to grant the NKR "intermediate status," presumably meaning that it would be under international control, until the holding of the referendum on its final status. A further "gray area" not touched upon in the Armenian Foreign Ministry statement is the future status of several districts that prior to 1988 were part of the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, but which Azerbaijan took control of in May-June 1991, expelling the Armenian population.

The Armenian statement stressed that the co-chairs, for the first time, have affirmed their support for the idea, first floated in December 2004 by NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Pierre Lellouche and former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, of a referendum on Karabakh's status, and that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents have agreed on doing so.

It further said that at the meeting in Bucharest on June 4-5 between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani side rejected an unspecified suggestion by the co-chairs as to how that remaining area of disagreement could be resolved. By contrast, the co-chairs' statement avoided allocating blame for the failure to reach an agreement, saying only that "the two presidents failed to agree."

Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on June 29, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian described the "principles" under discussion as "all-encompassing," in that they cover both "the core issue of Karabakh's future status, territories, refugees, security issues, peacekeeping and every conceivable issue that it necessary to arrive at a lasting solution to the conflict."

Asked to clarify the co-chairs' reference to "special modalities" for Lachin and Kelbacar, Oskanian explained that the negotiating text specifies that "there will be a [Lachin] corridor linking Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia." He added that Armenia will insist that that corridor "has the same status" as Karabakh. Oskanian also explained that due to security considerations, "Kelbacar can be returned only after the referendum is conducted and the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh is determined." He said this is the point of disagreement between the two sides to which the co-chairs referred in their statement to the OSCE Permanent Council last week. Oskanian said that the "principles" stipulate that the vote on Karabakh's status will take place among the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Some Armenian opposition politicians have expressed concern that the entire population of Azerbaijan would participate in the referendum and vote against Karabakh's independence.

Asked the Armenian leadership's overall assessment of the "principles," Oskanian said: "this is not a perfect document. For anyone. However, there are enough solid and balanced provisions, with the right tradeoffs on the main issues -- status, territories, and security -- that we are prepared to continue to negotiate on the basis of these principles," Noyan Tapan reported.

But the Karabakh Armenians, who to their frustration are excluded from the Armenian-Azerbaijani talks under the Minsk Group aegis, are unhappy with at least two of the provisions of the "basic principles." Even before this week's disclosures, the NKR posted a statement on its website on June 12 citing the arguments against determining the republic's future status in a referendum. The article reasoned that holding a further referendum would call into question the legality of the referendum of December 10, 1991, in which the overwhelming majority of the region's Armenian voters opted for independence from Azerbaijan. It noted that most Azerbaijani voters declined to participate in that plebiscite.

And on June 26, Vahram Atanesian, who is chairman of the NKR parliament's on Foreign Relations Committee, was quoted as rejecting the "principles" as outlined by the Minsk Group co-chairs on the grounds that they entail the "unequivocal return" of the occupied territories -- the NKR's sole bargaining chip -- in return for a decision at some unspecified future date on the republic's status. Atanesian said his perception is that the Minsk Group is pressuring Armenia to accept proposals that "are fully consistent with Azerbaijan's interests."

Insofar as Azerbaijan has not definitively rejected the current "principles," the present situation is reminiscent of that in the summer of 1997, when Armenia accepted, albeit with reservations, the modified Minsk Group package proposal, while Azerbaijan wavered, and Stepanakert rejected it outright. The biweekly independent Armenian newspaper "Iravunk" on June 27 drew the comparison between the current principles and the 1997 plan, but went on to make the point that unlike his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrossian, President Kocharian would never risk publicly making a case for mutual compromise with Azerbaijan. Instead, the paper suggested, Kocharian left it to the Minsk Group co-chairs to do so.

Markus Werther, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Mazar-e Sharif, has said the alliance is ready to spoil attempts by insurgents to destabilize northern Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on June 29. "The number of attacks in northern provinces" has increased in 2006, he said, showing that "the enemies of Afghanistan are doing their utmost" to force ISAF to abandon its mission, and then added, "But that will never materialize." He said ISAF will not be deterred from its goal of "ensuring security in Afghanistan" and will "fight against enemies" of the country. Mazar-e Sharif currently houses more than 2,000 ISAF troops, mainly from Germany. AT

Afrasiab Khattak, the secretary-general of the Awami National Party of Pakistan, said at an unspecified "seminar" in Kabul on June 29 that the military regime in Pakistan is responsible for the instability in Baluchistan and Waziristan, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Khattak labeled the Pakistani system of government a dictatorship and accused "Pakistani generals" of causing instability in Afghanistan. Khattak claimed that the Pakistani military was instrumental in sending "terrorists" to Afghanistan in order to create disorder in that country. Kabul has frequently accused Islamabad of harboring elements of the ongoing Afghan insurgency. By inviting Khattak, a Pashtun activist, Kabul is reviving policies supported by Afghan governments in the 1950s-80s as part of a "Pashtunistan" policy that promoted self-determination or union with Afghanistan for Pakistan's Pashtun population. The current border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan, and while Karzai wants free open borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has suggested fencing and mining the border -- a move that Khattak rejected (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," August 7, 2003, and February 28 and April 26, 2006). AT

U.S.-led coalition and Afghan National Army forces reported killing 12 suspected Taliban fighters in an attack on a compound in Oruzgan Province on June 28, AFP reported. A joint statement suggested the compound was "frequently used by Taliban insurgents as a meeting place" to plan attacks. The attack was part of the ongoing Operation Mountain Thrust, a campaign in southern Afghanistan in which more than 10,000 coalition and Afghan troops are participating. AT

If Iran prepares for the production of highly enriched uranium this year, American physicist David Albright writes in the July-August edition of the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists," it could build an atomic bomb by 2009, Reuters reported on June 29. Tehran has repeatedly denied seeking nuclear weapons. The international community, meanwhile, is asking Iran to respond to a proposal it received in early June that calls for the implementation of certain measures -- such as the suspension of uranium enrichment and greater cooperation with nuclear inspectors -- while the peaceful nature of its nuclear program is ascertained. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on June 29 that G8 foreign ministers expect Iran to reply "soon," RIA Novosti reported. France's Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Moscow on June 29 that Tehran must respond to the proposal "by 15 July," AFP reported. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Kabul on June 28 that the world awaits an authoritative response from Tehran, the State Department reported. BS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said on June 29 that Iran will not submit to pressure on the nuclear issue, state television reported. "As we have said, a harsh approach to Iran's nuclear case would not yield any results. The Iranian people would not forfeit their irrefutable rights," Larijani said. The international community's proposal, which Larijani received from visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on June 6, "was a positive step forward." Larijani spoke optimistically about his talks with Solana in the coming week. Larijani denied that Iran is facing a deadline, IRNA reported. BS

Agri Qaradagli, public relations chief for the National Revival Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, said on June 29 that the annual march to the Babak Castle near the East Azerbaijan Province town of Kelidar has begun, APA news agency reported. The Iranian central government normally responds to this annual commemoration of Babak Khorramdin, one of the first popular Persian leaders to oppose the imposition of Islam and Arab rule, with repressive measures (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," July 12, 2004). This year appears to be no exception. According to Qaradagli, Iranian security forces detained 20 of the march's organizers and their whereabouts are unknown. He added that on the morning of June 29 seven other participants were detained after a clash with police. BS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad left Tehran on June 29 to attend the Organization for African Unity conference in Banjul, Gambia, Iranian news agencies reported. Ahmadinejad met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before his departure, IRNA reported, and the cleric prayed for the president's success. Iran has observer status at the conference, at which Ahmadinejad is scheduled to give a speech. Iran is making strenuous efforts to enlist the backing of developing countries in the controversy over its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad said he will spend 36 hours in Gambia, state television reported, with most of his time to be spent discussing bilateral relations. BS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office has announced a five-hour Friday curfew on vehicular and pedestrian traffic in Baghdad, Reuters reported. The curfew will remain in place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is the third consecutive Friday curfew to be issued. Al-Maliki called on Iraqis to hold Friday noon prayers in their homes and cautioned them against carrying weapons on the streets. Weapons were banned as part of Operation Together Forward, announced earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 23, 2006). KR

Several armed groups in Iraq have responded to Prime Minister al-Maliki's national-reconciliation initiative by saying that they will lay down their arms if the United States agrees to withdraw its troops in two years, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on June 29. The number of groups that have responded to the initiative has not been released, but Iraqi media reports indicate that the groups involved have already appointed representatives to meet with the government. Meanwhile, Adnan Ali, a senior member of al-Maliki's Islamic Al-Da'wah party, said insurgent groups have proposed that preliminary talks be held in Kurdistan, London's "The Times" reported on June 30. The insurgents have asked that the initial talks concentrate on a timeline for a withdrawal of multinational forces, de-Ba'athification, and a review of the constitution, the daily reported. KR

Al-Qaeda leaders active in Al-Ramadi have fled Iraq for Syria under pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces and Iraqi armed groups, the Iraqi daily "Al-Mada" reported on June 29. Meanwhile, sources close to armed groups operating in the volatile Al-Anbar Governorate, of which al-Ramadi is the capital, told the daily that the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army's Al-Anbar branch has expressed willingness to enter into talks with the government. The group has reportedly dismissed its non-Iraqi fighters and severed all contact with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army issued a statement on June 27 rejecting al-Maliki's initiative and calling on Iraqis not to be lured to the government's side. The daily reported that a large number of families have returned to Al-Ramadi this week on news of the reconciliation initiative. KR

Some 8,000 bodies have passed through the Baghdad morgue in the past six months, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on June 29. Health Ministry Inspector-General Adil Muhsin al-Musawi said that the office's refrigerators are operating beyond their capacity of 150 bodies at a time. Some bodies go unidentified for two weeks or more, after which the morgue is forced to document and photograph the bodies and bury them. KR

An audio recording attributed to Osama bin Laden and posted to the Internet on June 29 has called on the U.S. government to turn the body of insurgent leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi over to his family. Bin Laden says that while Al-Qaeda is saddened by the death of al-Zarqawi and his associates, they are happy that the men died while defending Shari'a law. He also warns U.S. President George W. Bush not to celebrate al-Zarqawi's death, saying: "The [Al-Qaeda] banner has not fallen. Rather it has been passed from one lion to another lion of Islam." He pledges that Al-Qaeda will continue to fight the United States and its allies "everywhere" including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan until "you return defeated to your homeland, just as [you did] Somalia." KR

The speaker in the audio statement attributed to bin Laden also denies that al-Zarqawi targeted innocent Iraqis in his operations, saying such accusations are lies. Iraqi parliamentarian "Muhammad al-Da'ini [a Sunni member of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue] has spoken of the extent of oppression and torture against Muslims in Iraqi jails. Leaders of the Muslim Scholars Association also spoke of genocide against the people of Islam in Iraq. Abu Mus'ab...had clear instructions to focus his fighting on the occupying invaders...and not to target whoever wanted to be neutral," bin Laden says. He adds that it is perfectly acceptable under Islam to target anyone who fights alongside "the Crusaders." KR