Iran Ready to Mediate Karabakh Conflict Says Khatami

TEHRAN (Xinhua–Itar-Tass)–Iranian President Mohammad Khatami Monday said Tehran is ready to help find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Khatami made the remark in a meeting with visiting Azeri Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov–the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

He said that disputes among regional states would provide an excuse for the presence of alien powers in the region–which are causes for many crises.

Khatami also voiced Iran’s readiness for cooperation in the creation of stability and security in the region.

Referring to the Caspian Sea issue–the Iranian president said the Caspian belongs to all littoral countries and a suitable solution should be found through negotiations to exploit the resources.

Zulfugarov praised Iran’s efforts towards the settlement of the crisis between Azerbaijan and Armenia and for its humanitarian assistance to the people of his country.

Zulfugarov–who arrived in Tehran Saturday–expressed the Azeri government’s willingness to strengthen and expand relations with Iran.

In an interview with the Iran News newspaper–the Azeri foreign minister said that the Iranian president is expected to visit Baku at the first half of the year and Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev will return the visit to Iran at the second half of 1999.

Zulfugarov Saturday called for Iran’s support for a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

Zulfugarov made the appeal in talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi–the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

For his part–Kharrazi said that Iran is ready to continue its mediation over the issue in keeping with its good relations with the two countries.

He also said that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has only offered an excuse to the US for justifying military presence in the region.

Kharrazi was obviously referring to the call by some Azerbaijani officials for the establishment of US military bases in their country to challenge the threat from Armenia and Russia.

Tehran was upset by the appeal–warning Baku that it will not tolerate the presence of US forces in the region. Enditem

Meanwhile in Baku–Aliyev said his country’s approach toward the resolution of the Karabakh conflict remained the same and called for the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from all so-called occupied territories and return of refugees to their homes.

Aliyev spoke on Saturday at a meeting with Gerard Libaridian–a former adviser to ousted Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Libaridian arrived in Azerbaijan on a private visit Friday.

Aliyev stressed that his country can consider giving Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy within Azerbaijan after all the above conditions are met.

Aliyev stated that the settlement of the conflict was being impeded by artificial obstacles. At the same time–he noted that the conflict cannot go on forever and its peaceful resolution would benefit both nations which could effectively cooperate in the future.

Libaridian–who worked as an adviser to the Armenian president for seven years–pointed out that he favors a peaceful settlement in Karabakh.

He said that the sides should show political will and reach a compromise.

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