Armenia Azerbaijan Propose Caucasus Security Plan as OSCE Summit Concludes

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Armenia and Azerbaijan proposed on Friday setting up a Caucasian security system to help bring an end to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian told an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Istanbul on Friday that regional countries should come together to try to prevent further conflict.

"It is important to create a system of national security in the northern Caucasus and include all countries of the region in it," he said. "Ending this conflict is in the interests of both of our people."

Azeri President Haydar Aliyev said on Thursday in his summit address that a security and cooperation system should include Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia–regional powers Russia and Turkey–and the United States.

Aliyev and Kocharian met on the sidelines of the summit on Thursday and held separate meetings of about a half hour each with President Bill Clinton on Friday.

It was not clear whether the two sides fully agreed on the nature of the proposed regional security system. One Azeri official said no agreement had been reached on Karabakh at the talks between the Caucasus neighbors.

A senior US official said Clinton had praised each leader for "the fact that they have been willing to tackle what has been an extremely difficult problem for both countries for a long time."

Both leaders stressed to Clinton that it was important for the international community to stay involved in the process–the official said–speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second US official said Kocharian and Aliyev had talked to each other twice during the summit and sat next to each other at summit sessions by virtue of the alphabetical seating order.

The official called it "the diplomatic payoff of the alphabet."

"I think we can say they have clearly created a very positive atmosphere by the series of meetings they’ve had in the last year," the official said. "What that’s done is really give a new impetus to the hope of being able to move forward. This is radically different �rom where!they were just a year ago."

"There is now an atmosphere of greater mutual trust and understanding," it said.

The Karabakh issue was also the focus of the final declaration issued by the summit.

The summit participants concluded with the following evaluation of the Karabakh peace process: "We applaud in particular the intensified dialogue between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan–whose regular contacts have created opportunities to dynamize the process of finding a lasting and comprehensive solution to the problem. We firmly support this dialogue and encourage its continuation–with the hope of resuming negotiations within the OSCE Minsk Group. We also confirm that the OSCE and its Minsk group–which remains the most appropriate format for finding a solution–stand ready to further advance the peace process and its future implementation–including by providing all necessary assistance to the parties."

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