Albright Meets With Kocharian Aliyev

DAVOS–Switzerland (Reuters)–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met Armenian and Azeri leaders on Saturday to add impetus to their search for peace in the south Caucasus.

A senior State Department official said after the separate–hour-long meetings that Presidents Haydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia were serious about bringing peace to Nagorno-Karabakh.

US officials hope that resolving the dispute will lead to the opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey and ease the south Caucasus region’s economic woes.

At stake also is the security of an energy corridor designed to bring oil from Central Asia and the south Caucasus to Europe.

"Resolution as you would suspect is not easy or simple. This is a problem that is over a decade old and the historic animosities between these two countries goes back much further than that," the State Department official said–after Albright met the leaders on the edge of the World Economic Forum.

"But what we see is a sincere effort by all parties to try to bridge the differences and find an arrangement that would bring lasting peace to the region," he added.

Aliyev and Kocharian said at a panel discussion on Friday that their countries were ready to compromise for peace.

The State Department official declined to give any details of what options were being considered except to say that they were trying to hammer out a bold–straightforward and lasting settlement for the enclave.

He added that there was movement in the process though it had been hampered by the assassinations of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and seven other politicians in October–when gunmen’stormed Armenia’s parliament.

Another pressure on the process was the uncertain health of Aliyev–who had heart surgery last year.

The United States hopes that peace in the south Caucasus could spill over into Georgia and to the north Caucasus–where Russian troops are fighting Chechen separatists.

Albright was due to arrive in Moscow in the early hours of Monday to hold three days of meetings with the Russian leadership and co-chair a Middle East conference.

"There’s a feeling that Russia is supportive too of finding a solution here–seeing that there’s too much instability in the south," the State Department official said. Aliyev Describes as Positive His Meetings in Davos.

Meanwhile–the Itar-Tass news agency reported that Aliyev described as "positive" his meeting in Davos Kocharian and as "important and interesting" his conversations with US officials at the World Economic Forum.

Aliyev told journalists upon return to Baku from the World Economic Forum on Sunday that his direct talks with the President of Armenia had dealt with the possibility of reciprocal concessions between Azerbaijan and Armenia for the purpose of normalizing bilateral relations.

Aliyev stressed that no normalization was possible without the settlement of the Karabakh conflict–which is also a condition for the signing of a Caucasian security pact.

During the course of his meetings with President Bill Clinton–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright–and with co- chairman of the OSCE Minsk group for Nagorno-Karabakh Carey Cavanaugh of the United States–Aliyev discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The President of Azerbaijan said Washington was in favor of a prompt resolution to this conflict. Aliyev said his meetings with the US leaders also touched upon the situation in the Caucasus as a whole–and Baku’s approach for the signing of a regional security pact.

This initiative–the leader of Azerbaijan said–had been set forth by himself at his recent meeting with acting President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in Moscow and "met with understanding" on the part of the Russian head of state.

The OSCE Minks Group is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss a new proposal for Karabakh peace.

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