Oskanian Zulfugarov Meet With Albright

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)–Azerbaijan and Armenia are discussing a negotiated settlement for Nagorno-Karabakh–reflecting new willingness to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–a senior US official said Wednesday.

But whether the dispute can be resolved anytime soon is still uncertain–he said.

The senior American official briefed reporters after US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met for one hour with Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian and Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Tofiq Zulfugarov on the fringes of the UN General Assembly.

The meeting was among a series of contacts on Nagorno-Karabakh in recent months that demonstrates "a more significant–more intense (diplomatic) pace than had been there before," the U.S. official said.

In particular–he noted that the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed during a meeting in Geneva last August to have their defense and foreign ministers also hold direct talks.

Since then–the defense ministers met once to discuss strengthening the cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. The foreign ministers met in Yalta on September 10 and have set another round of talks for Thursday in New York.

The senior US official said he had no reason to believe that anything dramatic would emerge from the Thursday meeting.

"But it’s a positive sign that this process (of direct dialogue) is continuing and it’s useful that the process has moved from simply presidents meeting to foreign ministers and defense ministers," he said.

"What that shows is you have some agreement on the broad principles that are needed and now you’re moving into more details on what could be done both on strengthening the cease-fire aspect and on a negotiated settlement," he said.

The two sides were still "not there."We have a very difficult problem that’s been around for a long time. (But) what we’ve seen in the last few months is a significant change in that they are able to talk directly to one another," the official said.

"That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll find a solution but it certainly shows a desire by all parties to try," he added.

He confirmed Albright had sent letters to Azeri President Haydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian. The messages laid out US support for the negotiating process and "where we stand," he said without elaboration.Azerbaijan’s official press reported Tuesday Albright asked the leaders to agree on a declaration of principles as a framework to solve the Karabakh conflict.

In a letter to Aliyev published in a state newspaper–Albright said she believed it was possible to achieve an agreement and to fix a date and place to resume negotiations before a summit of the OSCE due on Nov. 18-19.

The presidents of the two former Soviet republics are due to meet at the summit–which will take place in Istanbul. The OSCE has mediated talks between the two sides since 1992.

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