World Bank Insists on Karabakh Peace Deal

WASHINGTON (Itar-Tass)–The World Bank confirmed its readiness to boost economic aid to Azerbaijan and Armenia if they reach progress in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–said a statement by the World Bank–circulated on Monday based on the results of a meeting between representative of the bank management Sven Sandstrom and Azeri Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade.

The meeting was held late last week during a one-day visit by the Azeri cabinet head to Washington.

A World Bank press release noted that Sandstrom expressed hope for continuation of the peace process in the Caucasian region and for a breakthrough in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

He said that while the sides come closer to concluding an agreement–the World Bank would like to work out a strategy of reconstruction and rehabilitation for districts which had suffered as a result of the many-year conflict between the two neighboring nations.

As soon as a peace agreement is signed–the bank can extend additional resources to Azerbaijan and Armenia through one of its key organizations–International development association.

Funds will be used for programs of social aid to refugees from areas of the conflict–restoration of infrastructure–including railways and highways–as well as development of the economy and trade in Transcaucasia.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said several days earlier about the bank’s readiness to draft a special "strategy of support" for the region. Wolfensohn met Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian in Washington. He also preconditioned granting aid by signing an agreement between Baku and Yerevan.

In the opinion of experts–it will be likely of a nature of a general political declaration–confirming the desire of the sides for a settlement of the conflict peacefully and containing commitmen’s to continue talks in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Nevertheless–specialists regard it as a very important step in the process of settling the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and note that it will be the first official agreement between Baku and Yerevan on normalizing bilateral relations.

The governmen’s of the two countries are also interested in making additional steps toward each other. Armenia vitally needs gradual removal of the economic blockade and improvement of contacts with Turkey–while Azerbaijan hopes for a repeal of Section 907–which limits US economic aid to the republic.

The US administration recently intimated that it would turn to Congress with a proposal to ditch it if Azeri and Armenian leaders conclude a peace agreement at the Istanbul summit.

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