Caucasus Four Leaders Agree to Meet Twice a Year

MOSCOW (Noyan Tapan)–The presidents of Armenia–Azerbaijan–Georgia and Russia’signed a joint statement Tuesday–calling a meeting between the four leaders "productive in providing the opportunity for exchange of ideas on ending conflicts in the south Caucasus."

The joint statement signed by Armenia’s Robert Kocharian–Azerbaijan’s Haydar Aliyev–Georgia’s Eduard Shevardnadze and Russia’s Vladimir Putin also highlighted the importance of cooperation around strengthening of regional security–combating terrorism and humanitarian assistance.

At the conclusion of the meeting the leaders decided to continue such meeting on a regular basis–at least twice a year.

The announcement also welcomed efforts by international organizations and community to resolve conflicts in the region peacefully–and the acceleration of conflict resolution processes in the south Caucasus.

The four-way meeting–on the eve of a summit of the 12-member Commonwealth of Independent States (all the former Soviet states minus the three Baltic republics)–aimed to boost regional security–the news agency said.

Azerbaijan’s Haydar Aliyev and Armenia’s Robert Kocharian earlier held trilateral talks with Putin–after a one-on-one session between the Russian president and Georgia’s Eduard Shevardnadze.

Russia has stood accused of siding with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and backing Abkhazian separatists in Georgia in a "divide and rule" policy.

The Black Sea Abkhazia region has sought independence from Georgia since 1992. The United Nations has 102 unarmed military observers monitoring a cease-fire in the area.

Russia has some 3,000 peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia–whose mandate was prolonged until January 1–2001 at a meeting of CIS foreign ministers on Tuesday.

Georgia has argued for their replacement by UN peacekeepers–saying that the Russian troops support the Abkhazian separatists.

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