OSCE Co Chairmen Visit Karabakh

* Azeri rejection denied.

YEREVAN (RFE/RL.–Noyan Tapan–Reuters)–Armenia’said Wednesday that new international proposals on settling the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh are a major improvement over the previous ones as mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation discussed them in Stepanakert.

OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen Donald Kaiser (USA)–George Vogier (France) and Yuri Yukalov (Russia) reported their countries’ firm resolve in the matter of resuming peace talks on the settlement of Karabakh conflict between Armenia–Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh.

Yukalov–Russia’s chief negotiator in the Group–told reporters in Yerevan that the idea envisions that "the two sides form a common state." He declined to specify–however–if the two entities would enjoy equal status as is demanded by the Armenian side.

Reports have quoted a key aide to Azeri President Haydar Aliyev as rejecting the proposals. Vafa Guluzade–the presidential adviser for foreign affairs–said on Monday that they do not contain specific provisions upholding Azerbaijan’s direct sovereignty over Karabakh.

Yukalov said that Azerbaijan has not rejected the latest OSCE Minsk Group proposals on settling the conflict over Nagorno- Karabakh–the Armenian news agency Snark reported.

"I therefore do not understand at all the statement by the Azeri president’s foreign policy adviser [Vafa Guluzade] that our proposals were rejected and that they concerned some single state," Yukalov said.

Guluzade told journalists on Monday that Azerbaijan had rejected what he called the single state concept proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group on the grounds that it was ambiguous and could give rise to different interpretations–Itar-tass news agency reported.

Yukalov said both the Armenian and Azeri leaderships found the OSCE proposals "very serious" and pledged to "thoroughly consider" them. He said the talks with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian have proceeded in a "constructive atmosphere."

Russia’s Yukalov said on Tuesday that the new OSCE plan envisages a "common" and not "union" state as some media reports said. He said the same principle is at the heart of international efforts to end another bitter dispute in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

"We are not inventing a bicycle. We are simply the first to try to fill up this concept with concrete content," Yukalov said. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh insist that the disputed enclave’s future status may fall short of outright independence but should rule out its "subordination" to Baku.

The Russian diplomat said they expect the conflicting parties to come up with an official answer to the new proposals "as soon as possible." Sources close to the Armenian foreign ministry told RFE/RL that the mediators might be presented with Yerevan’s "tentative" opinion on their return from Karabakh. "The presented proposals substantially differ from the previous ones…and involve a comprehensive solution to the conflict," Kocharian’s press service said.

Oskanian said the proposals–which call for Azerbaijan and the Armenian-populated Karabakh to form a "common state," are based on a "much more realistic assessment of the current situation." But he added that it is "too early" speak of Armenia’s official response.

Speaking in the Armenian parliament–Oskanian said the mediators proposed that Baku and Stepanakert should "form a common state" and regulate their relations by a special agreement to be negotiated later on. He said the new OSCE plan contains "fairly unconventional" ideas–but refused to give details–pointing to the confidential nature of the talks. Some media reports have said Azerbaijan has rejected the plan.

President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Arkady Ghoukassian met with co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group Wednesday–at which time the mediators outlined new proposals in resolving the Karabakh conflict and stressed the necessity to intensify the negotiating process.

The co-chairmen commented that their new proposals differed significantly from previous ones–first of all in unconventional approach–and deserve serious attention and thorough analysis. The sides agree to observe full confidentiality of the presented documen’s. The leadership of Karabakh said it would give its position to the new proposals after thorough scrutiny.

The meeting was also attended by Nagorno-Karabakh’s minister of defense Samvel Babayan and foreign affairs minister Naira Melkoumian.

Ghoukassian–at a press conference following the meeting–said that Karabakh was "encouraged" by the new proposals.

Armenia’s official position regarding this document will be made public after the proposals are carefully studied. The co-chairmen requested to keep the meetings confidential.

Yukalov refused to go into details about the proposals–saying: "We agreed that the talks will be exclusively confidential."

However–answering one of journalist’s questions Yukalov said: "Common state is when two parties constitute a common state. The term "common state" was applied once during talks between Moldavia and Transdniester–this term also existed during talks between Abkhazia and Georgia."

"We do not invent anything new–we just tried for the first time to give this notion a concrete meaning," Yukalov added.

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