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Azerbaijan Report: April 4, 2001

4 April 2001
Analysis and opinions published in the Azerbaijani press on the peace talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, Heidar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian, respectively, suggest low expectations for the talks among observers, analysts, and even the general public in Baku on the outcome of meeting in Key West.

Observers in the Azerbaijani capital point out that the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group of OSCE have failed to present new peace proposals to the sides in Florida. By presenting old and even contradictory proposals from 1997-1998, the OSCE co-chairmen admit that they do not have any fresh ideas on how to solve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Aliev's remarks at Key West on 3 April accusing the international community of not doing enough to end the conflict can be evaluated differently. It is possible that Aliyev is securing himself a safe retreat in the case that the Key West talks fail. Therefore, according to some observers, one should not expect any real breakthrough in the Key West talks.

Who will emerge the "winner" in Florida is another question discussed among Azerbaijani politicians and observers. Most local commentators agree that since the Key West talks will not produce any concrete results in resolving the Karabakh conflict, the talks can help to keep the peace process alive. But on the other hand, Aliev, Kocharian, and maybe even U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell could all come out as symbolic winners. Aliyev and Kocharian will show the public how tough they are in protecting and defending their national interests, and, in doing so, will make public relations gains back home in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Furthermore, Aliev, according to local press comments, can easily continue his efforts to have his son become his successor, but could at the same time run into trouble at home if he fails to resolve the Karabakh conflict as the plight of several hundred thousand refugees is of great concern to the public. The peace negotiations could help the Azerbaijani government distract public attention from widespread corruption and even criticism from abroad, according to local observers. Many others believe that a peace deal would mean a continuation of the poverty and corruption that plagues Azerbaijani society. One winner might be U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, according to some comments in the international media, will be able to show his skills as a proficient diplomat while gaining extensive and badly needed exposure by the international media. The possible winners are known. But who, if anyone, will be the losers? This question remains open in Baku. (Mirza Xazar)

"Peace and stability in this region, the crossroads between Europe and Asia, is in the interest of the international community and cause of world peace. The United States is committed to facilitating a mutually acceptable settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's opening remarks at Key West on 3 April.

"We came to Key West with great hope. But I am not going to accept a resolution to the conflict which will violate the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I urge the Armenian side to be more constructive. In 1999 we were very close to an agreement with [Armenian] President [Robert] Kocharian. But the Armenian government suddenly changed it's position at that time and the attempt failed." -- Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's remarks in Key West on 3 April at the opening of negotiations.

"We came to Key West to hold constructive talks. We are not here to make propagandist statements." -- Armenian President Robert Kocharian's response to Aliev's remark. Both presidents' remarks reported by RFE/RL Armenian Service's correspondent in Key West.

Excerpts from a press conference by Colin Powell on 3 April in Key West:

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is it your hope that a new proposal will be put forward during these talks this week? And can you tell us what kind of message you want to send about U.S. interest in the region by your personal commitment to these negotiations?

POWELL: I think my personal presence as the secretary of state of the United States and representing the president shows the interest we have in the region, the support we have for both the Azerbaijani and Armenian people, and their presidents to bring this conflict to an end, and hopefully allow those two nations to be able to create conditions of peace and stability that will encourage investment, that will allow them through that investment to become more integrated members of the international world economic community.

And so the message I would like to give to the peoples of the two countries is that this is a time for all of us to hope for success in these negotiations so that we can end this conflict, bring peace and stability, and allow these two countries to progress more quickly into the promise of the 21st century international world economy.

QUESTION: [Is there] any hope of a new proposal being put forward?

POWELL: I think there are a number of ideas. There are some ideas that the two presidents have discussed with representatives of the co-chairs, with [French] President [Jacques] Chirac and with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin. And so there are a lot of ideas out there that we will be pursuing, and I would rather not characterize new proposals, old proposals. There are common understandings and there are points of difference that we will be discussing over the next several days.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, what is your feeling -- how close are the sides to this agreement, and how broad was the territorial integrity -- preservation of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan discussed?

POWELL: Well, I have just arrived. I have only had a meeting with each of the two presidents separately. We haven't begun our plenary session, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to start characterizing various negotiating positions until we've actually begun our discussions.

(These comments were taken from the U.S. State Department's website:

Azerbaijan's National Resistance Movement (NRM) decided to be more active in urging against any concessions during the peace talks in Key West on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The leaders of different political parties expressed the view that the NRM should be able to mobilize the masses to defend the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and stave off any attempt by the Azerbaijani government to compromise Azerbaijani lands in Key West. The NRM was formed by about 20 political parties and non-government organizations (NGOs) in 1999 to fight against the granting of any concessions by the Azerbaijani government to Armenia over the Karabakh issue. Today the movement consists of more than 50 political parties and NGOs. Isa Gambar, leader of the main opposition party MUSAVAT, expressed the view that the NRM must be prepared to organize huge rallies if Aliev's government accepts a peace deal compromising the national interests of Azerbaijan or it's territories. (RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service stringer in Baku)

Ilyas Ismailov, the leader of the Adalat Party, proposed in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" to "freeze" the conflict over Karabakh. According to Ismailov, Azerbaijan should not agree with the proposals of mediators on a solution to the conflict because in the current situation all proposals are against Azerbaijan's national interests.

The opposition "Millet" newspaper, commenting on the negotiations in Key West, writes that the U.S. and Russia have not taken part in such high-level OSCE negotiations since 1993. The possibility of continuing the negotiations after 7 April shows that the sides are trying to reach real results. The newspaper noted that the statement by the U.S. about recognizing Armenia as the aggressor writes that the sides were full of propagandistic statements on the eve of the Key West meeting. Despite attempts by mediators, Aliyev is unable to combine his own and Azerbaijani interests into a single position. On the one hand, there is the official Baku speak about the establishment of NATO bases in Azerbaijan, and on the other statements about the leading role of Russia in settling the conflict. According to the newspaper, Aliyev needs the support of both Washington and Moscow.

The independent "Ekho" newspaper reports that current military exercises by Armenian troops on the border of the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan are not accidental. The goal of the exercises is to demonstrate that Armenia is ready to use armed forces to put pressure on Azerbaijan. At the same time, Armenia is attempting to test the reaction of Turkey. The newspaper writes that the geopolitical polarization in the Caucasus continues to intensify.

"Yeni Azerbaijan," a daily controlled by the ruling party, is optimistic about the negotiations in Key West. The author writes that time is working to the benefit of Azerbaijan. The newspaper, commenting on the last statement by the U.S. State Department, writes that it is the first time that the U.S. has recognized the fact that Armenia is occupying Azerbaijani territory. Such recognition has created a favorable political atmosphere for Azerbaijan ahead of the negotiations. At the same time, it is a serious signal for the Armenian president. The newspaper suggests that President Kocharian can stand up to the pressure during Key West discussions.

The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," noting the high-level negotiations in Key West, does not rule out that the possibility that the two sides can reach some agreements. The U.S., it says, is going to take control over the negotiations on a settlement of conflict. At the same time, it will be very difficult for America to press Russia to leave the Caucasus. The newspaper recalls last week's American proposal about the participation of a representative from Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist regime in negotiations. Following this proposal, the U.S. government named Armenia an aggressor in the conflict over Karabakh. According to the paper, in such a situation Azerbaijan is once again defeated because to sit at the negotiation table with the leader of a separatist regime would be recognizing the fact that "Upper Karabakh" is a disputed territory. The newspaper, however, does not believe that the U.S. will apply any sanctions against Armenia as the aggressor.

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