Leaders Optimistic Over Karabakh Settlement

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan have sounded unusually optimistic about the prospects for a quick settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The two told a group of US congressmen on Monday and over the weekend that Kocharian’s meeting on July 19 with his Azeri counterpart Haydar Aliyev may signal the beginning of a breakthrough in the stalled peace process.

Sargsyan said on Monday the meeting held in Geneva "was encouraging and we all will soon witness steps that will definitely lead to a final settlement of the conflict," according to the government’s press office.

Kocharian was quoted by his office as saying on Sunday that "for the first time there is an attempt [by Armenia and Azerbaijan] to jointly find a common ground for the issue’s settlement."

Both Kocharian and Aliyev have said before that they are satisfied with results of the Geneva meeting and will likely meet again to continue the dialogue.

"Both sides should make a compromise. We both…are seeking compromises," Aliyev was quoted by the Azeri media as saying. However–it is unclear whether the leaders of the two conflicting countries reached an agreement on any of the sticking points hampering the conflict’s settlement.

Sargsyan’s and Kocharian’s upbeat remarks on Karabakh were made at separate meetings with a delegation of members of the US Congress visiting Armenia.

The delegation was led by representatives John Porter (R-Ill.) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–the co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. The Caucus–described last February by the Washington Post as "one of the most effective ethnic lobbies in the House," currently unites just under 70 lawmakers.

It has been instrumental for the Congress’s passage of a number of pro-Armenian initiatives in recent years. One of them–known as Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act–bars Azerbaijan from receiving direct US assistance citing Baku’s blockade of Armenia.

"The Armenian people do not forget that your country helped Armenia out in the most difficult times," Sargsyan was quoted as telling the congressmen. He said Yerevan "does not want to build its foreign policy upon differences between the superpowers and is ready to have deeper and more friendly ties with the US."

Kocharian made a similar comment–explaining that his government wants to "soften the existing differences [between the superpowers]" and not "play on those differences."This is a region where you can easily make enemies but develop [good] relations with great difficulty," Kocharian said.

The delagation included members of Congress Constance Morella (R-Md.)– Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)–Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)–met with American businessmen in Armenia. United States Ambassador to Armenia Michael Lemmon also attended the meeting.

Discussions focused on the establishment of a US Chamber of Commerce in Armenia to help support 60 American private companies operating in Armenia–Armenian-American joint ventures–and companies engaged in overseas import. US businessmen working in Armenia are interested in the elimination of customs barriers during trade between the US and Armenia.

The US Chamber of Commerce in Armenia is expected to be a link to the UN National Chamber of Commerce–providing Armenia with vaster opportunities to attract investment.

President Robert Kocharian–meeting with the delegation–discussed Armenian-American relations–and problems of regional concern–including the Karabakh peace process. The president answered a number of questions concerning Armenia’s foreign policy and current economic reforms–as well as the country’s investment policy in the Diaspora.

Kocharian pointed out Armenia’s foreign policy has undergone considerable changes. Armenia has become more active in the region. He stated that Armenia is trying to resolve the differences that exist between its neighboring countries.

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