Aliyev Appoints New Foreign Minister

BAKU (Reuters)–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev on Tuesday dismissed Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov amid reports of a government rift over how to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Sources close to Zulfugarov–39–said he had handed in his resignation on Sunday as he was unhappy with the terms of an impending settlement of the Karabakh issue.

Aliyev has held face-to-face talks with Armenian President Robert Kocharian over Karabakh.

"President Haydar Aliyev–according to the constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan–decrees the release of Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov from his post," the decree said. Vilayat Guliyev–45–was named to replace Zulfugarov.

The decree gave no details of the dismissal–which coincided with a visit to Baku by US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott .

Zulfugarov’s departure follows the resignations of senior presidential aide Eldar Namazov on Sunday and Aliyev’s top foreign policy adviser–Vafa Guluzade–two weeks ago.

The talks in recent months between Aliyev and Kocharian have raised hopes a framework settlement on Karabakh will be signed before a European security conference in November in Istanbul.

"They’re closer now than they’ve ever been before to making a deal–and there’s a very good chance something will be signed in November," said one foreign political observer.

A Western political analyst said that as a deal became more of a reality–some government members could be trying to distance themselves from a potentially unpopular agreement.

"The conditions could be very unpopular here and no one would want to be associated with a bad deal," the analyst said.

Azerbaijan’s opposition parties–fearing Karabakh will be given away–have held rallies and demanded that the talks be open to public debate.

New Foreign Minister Guliyev is a member of the parliamentary commission on law and state building has no previous experience in the diplomatic service.

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