Clinton Meets Kocharian Aliyev

ISTANBUL (Itar-Tass–Agence France Presse)–President Bill Clinton held separate meetings with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia–Haydar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Istanbul.

A Clinton administration official told reporters Friday–on conditions of anonymity–that Clinton’s talks with the Azeri and Armenian presidents centered on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The official said Clinton backed efforts of the leaders of the two Transcaucasus republics to pursue dialogue for finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

Aliyev and Kocharian said they valued the role of the international community in negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh and called for more active involvement within the frame of the OSCE’s Minsk Group. The Minsk group is co-chaired by Russia–the United States and France.

The US official said Clinton showed understanding toward the circumstances due to which the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan were unprepared to draw up any settlement accords at the Istanbul summit. The Oct. 27 massacre in the Armenian parliament deterred the Karabakh peace process–Kocharian said before leaving for Istanbul

The tragedy affected Armenia’s stability–and Kocharian needs some time "to restore the internal political consensus"–the official said.

The United States recently has been encouraging Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach an agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh at the Istanbul summit of the OSCE.

However–experts expected that the agreement would be in the nature of a general political declaration that would confirm willingness of the sides to settle the confrontation in a peaceful way and continue negotiations within the Minsk Group framework. The desired agreement was seen as an important step–since it would be the first official agreement between Baku and Yerevan on normalization of relations.

The US administration official withheld conjecture on when such an accord could be signed by Aliyev and Kocharian.

He stressed that they had held four bilateral meetings that created a "very positive general atmosphere". This promises progress in Nagorno-Karabakh settlement–he said.

Kocharian and Aliyev did not hold direct talks at the Istanbul summit–but they attended consultations of foreign ministers of the Minsk troika–Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov–French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Curiously–the alphabetical order of seats placed the Armenian and Azeri presidents nearby at the summit’s desk and they periodically conversed during plenary sittings.

The US official said this was especially noteworthy–given that leaders of some other countries exchanged no words.

French President Jacques Chirac on Friday said he was quite optimistic about the prospects of settlement in the Karabakh conflict.

Chirac said he had met both Kocharian and Aliyev during the OSCE summit and added that the two countries were likely to sign a settlement treaty within a month.

Chirac stressed both presidents are willing to sign the treaty as soon as possible.

Kocharian said Friday that Azerbaijan had rejected a proposal by Armenia to resolve the Karabakh conflict–reported Agence France Presse.

"Unfortunately–the last proposal of Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh to the Minsk Group has been rejected by Azerbaijan," Kocharian said in a speech ahead of the signing of European security accords at the OSCE summit.

The Armenian president did not give details of the proposal.

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