Yeltsin Vows to Redirect Attention to Karabakh

MOSCOW (Reuter)–Russian President Boris Yeltsin stated Thursday that his country and oil-rich Azerbaijan had resolved most of their bilateral disagreemen’s–and vowed to now turn attention to joining with Paris and Washington in helping to end the long-running conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azeri President Gaidar Aliyev’s visit to Russia has been seen as something of a fence mending exercise–as ties between Moscow and Baku have been soured by mutual recriminations ranging from trade hitches to accusations they helped each other’s rebels.

"There are no more unresolved problems between Russia and Azerbaijan," Yeltsin said Thursday in a 90-minute session at the Kremlin with Aliyev. "We have solved them."

Yeltsin did add that his ministers still had to iron out some differences concerning the status of the Caspian Sea–the planned pipeline route through Russia to deliver oil to Black Sea ports and a railway linking the two ex-Soviet republics.

But with the apparent vote of confidence–Yeltsin turned his attention to resolving what he called the most pressing issue at the moment-Azerbaijan’s current conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh–an enclave mainly populated by Armenia’s but inside Azerbaijan. Yeltsin said France and the United States had agreed to join him in a renewed and concerted effort to steer Azeri and Armenian leaders towards a lasting settlement. There has been a truce in the region for three years–but isolated gunfire still persists.

"I have agreed with US. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac that we will get together finally to find a way to make the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia’sit at the negotiating table and sign an agreement or a treaty," Yeltsin was quoted as saying.

He did not say when and where the talks would be held–but Yeltsin–Clinton and Chirac did discuss the problem during a world summit in the Denver last month where the three proposed giving Karabakh wide autonomy within Azerbaijan. Karabakh Armenia’s–however–have been unenthusiastic about this recent proposal.

During their Kremlin talks–Yeltsin and Aliyev signed a series of bilateral documen’s including an updated version of a 1992 friendship treaty in which the two vowed not to allow their territories to be used for activities against the other.

Aliyev–a 74-year-old veteran of the Soviet ruling Politburo who helped oust Yeltsin from the Communist Party leadership in 1987–made little comment. It was not clear whether he shared Yeltsin’s optimistic view of their talks.

Baku was outraged by reports leaked by Russian deputies that Moscow had supplied arms worth nearly $1 billion to Armenia. Aliyev was quoted on his arrival as saying that he was going to raise this issue with Yeltsin and demand that the weapons–which Baku sees as a threat to its security–be repatriated.

For their part–Russian officials have accused Azerbaijan of allowing weapons and money to flow to pro-independence rebels from its breakaway region of Chechnya during a 21-month war.

Russia temporarily cut rail and road links with Azerbaijan during the Chechen war–which ended last August. Aliyev has denied helping the Chechens and blames Moscow for offering refuge to his political foes–such as a former Azeri president–Ayaz Mutalibov–who is wanted by Baku’s security services for allegedly plotting a coup d’etat.

"Both sides denounce separatism and promise to ban and prosecute on their territories any organizations whose activities are aimed at the other’s independence and territorial integrity," the treaty said.

The moves to heal political ties come as Moscow and Baku engage in tough economic talks on rights for the oil-rich Caspian sea shelf and terms for transporting Azeri oil.

Aliyev’s office said on Tuesday Azerbaijan and Russian oil giant LUKoil would sign a deal this week on jointly developing the Yalama oil field in the Azeri sector of the Caspian Sea.

LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov said in May the offshore field is estimated to hold at least 50 million tons of crude. Aliyev’s visit is also aimed at lifting the last obstacles to an accord on the transit of Azeri oil through Chechnya. Baku has accused Russia of lagging behind in implementing the deal on the pipeline–which is due to carry the first oil from an $8 billion international consortium by October.

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