Azerbaijan Calls for New Peace Plan

OSLO (Reuters)–Azerbaijan expressed optimism Thursday that international mediators would soon produce a new plan to end a festering territorial dispute with Armenia after Baku rejected a draft last month.

But Armenia insisted that the existing plan by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mediators–the United States–Russia and France –was a good "middle road" for settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

"I believe that no war is eternal," Azeri Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov told Reuters after a 54-nation European security conference in Oslo–expressing muted optimism of an end to the conflict over the enclave–populated by ethnic Armenia’s.

He said there was widening international opposition to the proposal by mediator nations last month to make Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan–the hub of the Caspian oil industry–a "common state.”

Baku rejected the plan–reckoning it would violate its sovereignty and territorial integrity–while Armenia accepted.

"I am convinced after talks here that they (mediators) will abandon the idea of a ‘common state’. All my contacts with people involved…show that this concept is gone," Zulfugarov said. "It’s an unsuccessful attempt to create a new form of statehood."

"I think that the granting of a high degree of self-rule for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan is the way we have to proceed," he said.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said that the next move was up to the US–Russian and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group of mediators.

But "they should not deviate from the middle road that they have so very successfully articulated in this most recent proposal," he told Reuters.

"We hope they (Azerbaijan) will revisit their decision and take a harder look at what they have been offered," he said.

Foreign ministers of the 54 nation OSCE pledged at the end of two-day talks on Thursday to "continue and strengthen" efforts to bring peace to Nagorno-Karabakh.

They gave no specific promises of an overhaul of the peace proposals. Oskanian and Zulfugarov did not formally meet during the OSCE talks.

"There always are skirmishes between the two sides with bullets being fired," Oskanian said.

"This situation can be described as neither war nor peace," Zulfugarov said. "We are committed to preserving this cease-fire until the final settlement of the conflict."

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