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Azerbaijan Report: April 10, 2001

10 April 2001
What Happened In Key West?
U.S. President George W. Bush's meeting with the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents on 9 April increased hopes for a peaceful solution of the Karabakh conflict in the near future. But the real outcome of the peace talks between Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev and the three Minsk Group co-chairmen in Key West is still not clear.

Contradictory and deeply different reactions to the latest round of peace talks in Florida from Armenian and Azerbaijani officials have deepened uncertainty and doubts in Azerbaijan surrounding the Key West talks. Optimistic statements by Armenian government officials, and obviously cool reactions from Azerbaijani officials are still feeding this uncertainty. More and more politicians and ordinary citizens are asking how realistic the Armenian optimism is, and if there are indeed grounds for that optimism, then how should the Azerbaijani public understand the neutral and cool statements of officials close to prezident Aliev.

There are many different explanations expressed in Azerbaijani media following Key West talks. Some politicians claim the Azerbaijani president has made serious concessions to the Armenian side and has therefore chosen to remain silent on the outcome of peace talks. Other politicians express different views. They suggest that the excitement on the Armenian side could be an attempt to discredit the Azerbaijani leadership at home and to put more pressure on Heidar Aliyev to agree to a peace accord promptly.

It is hard to support or reject any of these opinions. But the main question remains open - What happened in Key West? Is there any ground for Armenian optimism? Judging from Aliev's short and nervy statement in Washington after his meeting with the U.S. president, these questions are annoying the Azerbaijani leadership too. In his response to a reporter's question - How much of progress was made during the negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh last week in Key West, Florida, Aliyev responded with one sentence: " I haven't had the chance to measure how close we are now." This statement does not solve the problem. The main problem is: who will tell the Azerbaijani public what really happened in Key West? (Mirza Xazar)

Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and a deputy of the Milli Mejlis, demanded during a parliament session on 10 April that the legislature discuss the results of Key-West negotiations. Parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov replied that such a demand by an opposition deputy is not expedient because the negotiation process has not ended yet and it will be continued in Geneva in June. It is expected the Armenian side is going to compromise its position, Aleskerov said. But he said nothing about the nature of such a compromise.

The Democratic Congress, which consists of about 20 opposition parties, has demanded that the government release information on the Key West talks. Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar pointed out at a 9 April meeting of the Democratic Congress that the silence of Azerbaijan officials is arousing regret and surprise. If Armenian diplomats are giving optimistic statements, Azerbaijan side must inform the public about what progress has been made.

The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that in the first place the mediators, including U.S. Ambassador and Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh, need to create the impression that the Key West talks were a success. The Bush administration needs the visibility of success too. At the same time, the paper notes there are some other nuances in the 7 April statement released by OSCE Minsk Group. The facts show the co-chairs are intensively working on preparing new proposals on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict based on mutual compromises.

"Yeni Azerbaijan," the daily newspaper of the eponymous ruling party, notes that it was known from the beginning that no agreements would be signed in Washington. Western papers write about progress in the negotiations but do not explain the essence of that progress. At the same time, referring to the translation of "Key West, " the paper expresses the hope that the West is closing to find the "key" to resolving the Karabakh conflict.

The independent newspaper "525," commenting on the talks in Florida, writes that there are differences in the opinions of co-chairs about the results of the negotiations. Another interest fact is the disappearance of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell after his face-to- face meetings with both presidents at the first day of talks. According to the commentator, this shows no results were achieved during the Key West talks. As regards the meetings between U.S. President George W. Bush and the two presidents, the paper interprets them as evidence that progress was indeed made at the talks. If the Key-West negotiations had failed, the U.S. president would not have taken part in this process. Citing the "Mediamax" agency, the paper recalls that Colin Powell said if the Key West negotiations made headway, President Bush would meet with Aliyev and Kocharian. The last meetings in Washington show the four-day Key-West negotiations were successful.

The independent newspaper "Ekho" appraises the drawing of Iran into the Karabakh peace process as the real sensation of the Key West negotiations. Although the government is trying to present the Florida talks as a great advancement of diplomacy, the tension surrounding the negotiation process has not been reduced and the opposition is continuing to accuse the government of inactivity over the Karabakh issue. According to the paper, today the government is obliged to take public opinion into consideration.

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