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Azerbaijan Report: April 3, 2001

3 April 2001
The 3 April talks between Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian will be held in Key West, Florida, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The talks are at the invitation of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The four days of meetings between Aliyev and Kocharian will be conducted at the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum. Bob Wolz, the museum's executive director, said the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks will not be the first historic meeting to take place at the Little White House. In 1948, General Dwight Eisenhower held a military meeting at the house to reorganize the U.S. Armed Forces, creating the U.S. Department of Defense. In 1961, John F. Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan held a summit meeting there to discuss the situation in Southeast Asia. NATO officials also met there last year. (AP)

"The upcoming meeting at Key West is a very important one. I am going there with great hope." -- Heidar Aliev, president of Azerbaijan, to an RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent at the Baku Airport before his departure to the U.S.

"I am not going to sign any peace agreement that is against Azerbaijan's national interests. I will not sign a disgraceful peace accord. If we get peace, then we can sign an agreement which will also be signed by the big world powers, the co-chairmen of the OSCE, the European Union, and the United Nations."-- Aliyev before leaving for the U.S. on 1 April.

"Both sides are closer to peace than ever before." -- a Western diplomat in Baku describing the situation to an RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent on the eve of the Aliev-Kocharian meeting at Key West.

"No document will be signed at Key West during talks between Heidar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian next week. There is going to be an exchange of opinions between heads of states, [and] the peace process will continue." -- Vilayet Kuliev, Azerbaijani foreign minister to of Azerbaijan, to an RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent in Baku.

"I've never heard of either of those two places [Azerbaijan or Armenia], but I think they should be at peace. I think everybody should be at peace." -- Key West bartender Rick Kirvan to an AP correspondent in regard to the peace talks.

The World Congress of Azerbaijanis issued a statement on the eve of the Aliev-Kocharian meeting in Florida urging the Azerbaijani leader not to make any concessions to Armenia. "On behalf of the 3rd Congress of Azerbaijanis of the World, we announce that while Azerbaijan supports peace and stability in the region and peaceful reconciliation with it's neighbors, Azerbaijan will not make or accept any concessions on its territories, will not allow the loss of an inch of its territory...Any peace treaty should take into consideration the consent of about 40 million Azerbaijanis around the world." -- Feridun Parviz Nia, the chairman of the congress's board of directors.

"It's low-lying fruit," said Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution, who compared the Nagorno-Karabakh issue to the conflict in the West Bank. But she warned against excessive optimism, recalling former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had only just left Armenia when gunmen wrecked peace hopes in 1999 by shooting dead the prime minister and seven other people.

The origins of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in late 1987 when dozens of Armenians took to the streets of Yerevan to demand Nagorno-Karabakh secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia.

In February 1988, mass demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people erupted in the Armenian capital of Yerevan and in Khankendi (commonally known as Stepanakert), the administrative capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous District of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Demonstrators demanded that the Soviet government allow Nagorno-Karabakh to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. Conflict became more violent in February 1988.

In 1988-1989 more than 120,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to leave their homes in Armenia and seek refuge in Azerbaijan. Likewise, an estimated 300,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan were also forced to leave and resettle in Armenia. In November 1988 hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis staged a mass rally in Baku to refute Armenian demands and protect the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In January 1990, Soviet tanks and troops moved into the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. More than 150 civilians died during the Soviet invasion.

A full-scale war for Nagorno-Karabakh began in 1990 and waged on until May 1994, when a ceasefire agreement was signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Some 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory is still occupied by ethnic Armenian forces. Some 35,000 people died in the conflict, which also drove some 800,000 Azerbaijanis from their homes. Most of these refugees are still living in squalor at refugee camps. Many of the refugees have died due to malnutrition, disease, or a lack of quality medical care.

In 1992, the OSCE formed the so-called Minsk Group -- chaired by the U.S., France, and Russia -- tasked with mediating a solution to the conflict. Azerbaijan has said it is ready to grant the "highest degree of autonomy" to Nagorno-Karabakh, but insists it must remain part of Azerbaijan. Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would like to formalize the region's independence from Baku but appear ready to accept a solution that would give Karabakh de-facto independence by placing it under a loose confederation with Azerbaijan. The predominantly Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh declared the region an independent republic in December 1991, but no state in the world has recognized it yet.

Leading Azerbaijan opposition parties do not expect any positive results from the meeting in Florida on Nagorno-Karabakh on 3 April. Many observers consider the tension in relations between U.S. and Russia as having a negative influence on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Isa Gambar, head of the main opposition party Musavat, said there are different opinions about the Key West talks. The most popular outcome is that no agreements will be signed in the U.S. settling the conflict. There are suggestions that although no peace agreement will be signed, a document on the principles of a settlement will be signed.

According to Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformist" wing of the Popular Front Party, Azerbaijan will not accept he peace proposals put forward by the Armenian side because these proposals would mean losing Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, he does not expect any serious compromises from Armenia. He said the opposition will seriously resist if Aliyev accepts the "capitulation" peace deal. The settlement of the Karabakh conflict cannot be reached without a consensus between Russia and the U.S., Kerimov said.

According to Etibar Mamedov, head of the National Independent Party, the Azerbaijani side will face great pressure during the negotiations in Florida. He said he thinks the "correlation of forces" is in favor of Armenia.

Rustam Mamedov, a representative of the social-political department of the President's Office, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that he expects positive results from the meeting in Florida because the U.S. has the potential to exert great influence on both sides in the conflict. According to him, all the meetings on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict are setting a foundation and prevent the stagnation of negotiations.

The opposition newspaper "Millet," comparing the upcoming negotiations in Florida with a card game, comments pessimistically that despite his long experience in political intrigues, President Heidar Aliyev will play the role of the losing side in Florida from the beginning of the talks because all the cards have already been distributed and all the large trump cards have been taken by Russia and the U.S. President Robert Kocharian, however, still has some large and small trump cards, the newspaper says, and Aliyev was not given a single one. The independent "Azadliq" newspaper -- in comparing the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict over Karabakh with the Arab-Israeli negotiations -- points out that in both cases Washington and Moscow follow their own interests. This kind of meeting does not determine who is the aggressor and who is the victim. Such meetings with the participation of the mediators cannot resolve the conflict. It may only prolong the negotiation process and freeze the problem.

"Yeni Azerbaijan," the daily newspaper of the ruling party, writes that the negotiations in the U.S. will expedite the peace process and it predicts that the negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh will continue in Moscow. This means there will be serious results in Florida, it says.

WESTERN PRESS: Powell To Show Mediating Skill On Nagorno-Karabakh

Washington, 1 April (Reuters) -- Exploiting what one U.S. official called a rare window of opportunity, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has turned to a remote mountain conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan to show off his mediating skills.

Facing accusations of a new American isolationism, Powell hopes to show the United States at work with Russia and France as co-chair of talks when he flies into Florida on 3 April to launch a fresh bid for a peace deal over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The U.S. sees grounds for optimism that it can bring an end to the first major ethnic dispute to erupt in the waning days of the Soviet Union, bringing stability to a region where Russia, Turkey, and Iran also have interests. It is also a region from which Washington would like to export Azerbaijani oil.

"It is not a region that anyone would welcome renewed fighting in," one senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity, of a territory recognized as part of Azerbaijan but partly occupied by Armenian forces.

If Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev make progress at the talks, which are expected to run up to six days, it would be a feather in Powell's cap.

"The United States recognizes how rare sometimes these windows of opportunity can be," the official said.

He said U.S. President George W. Bush had already discussed the issue with French President Jacques Chirac, who mediated two meetings between Kocharian and Aliyev this year which failed to end the 13-year conflict that killed 35,000 people before a 1994 ceasefire.

Azerbaijan wants Nagorno-Karabakh back in its control, though it is offering the mainly ethnic Armenian region broad autonomy.

Armenia wants independence for the region. "With this format that is taking place in Key West, we are highlighting both the intent to advance a resolution of this problem and the cooperation toward that end by the United States, Russia, and France together," the official said.

This could help the U.S. image as Europe slams Bush for withdrawing support for a 1997 treaty on global warming.

Russia has close ties with Armenia and has been accused by Azerbaijan of giving military aid to its rival. Iran would prefer not to see a U.S. foothold established in the region, where about 200 people are killed each year despite the truce, mainly due to snipers and land mines, the official said.

Russian, U.S., and French diplomats will participate in the talks, whose first day Powell will attend and which for the first time will bring the two sides together for intense talks over several days with mediation of the three co-chairs.

Some experts fear tensions in U.S.-Russian relations may complicate the talks, with Washington and Moscow ordering reciprocal expulsions of 50 diplomats accused of spying.

No new proposals are on the table but one could come out of the talks, brought about by contacts through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which the three co-chairs are members, the U.S. official said.

Azerbaijan has rejected three OSCE proposals and demanded new ones. Aliev's impatience has been reflected in a number of bellicose statements in which he threatened to use military means to restore Baku's control of the territory. [by Elaine Monaghan]

Compiled by Mirza Xazar in Prague and Samira Gaziyeva in Baku.