OSCE Chairperson in Office Meets with Leaders

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office–Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner participated in the official ceremony of the opening of the OSCE Yerevan Office–Monday. In a later joint press conference–Ferrero-Waldner described the office’s work and its cooperation with Armenian authorities as excellent. She explained that the OSCE office is trying to keep the comprehensive security concept within the frames of political–military and humanitarian aspects.

Ferrero-Waldner stated she had come to the region to facilitate the Karabakh peace process. In her opinion–now is a good political moment to seize. In her message–the OSCE Ferrero-Waldner stressed that the economic development of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as that of the entire region is possible only if an ultimate resolution to the conflict is found–which can be best achieved through compromises–and this process may require much courage and effort. But most importantly–she said–"you should look to the future of your country and your children."

Ferrero-Waldner expressed satisfaction with the policies of President Robert Kocharian–who–as she said–showed his political will to resolve the conflict. The OSCE official hoped that President Aliyev would demonstrate the same political will. "I have noticed certain progress in Armenia and I hope the Azeri side will follow suit," she emphasized.

Recently–Ferrero-Waldner had an intensive meeting with Haydar Aliyev in Vienna. She is well aware of the elemen’s of settlement available to the Azeri president–as well as the viewpoints of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. "I’ll try to be an active and effective go-between in mediating a peaceful solution to the problem," said Ferrero-Waldner–stressing that the OSCE will not–in any way–ask for a solution unwelcome to any of the sides–but it will be up to the parties of the conflict to agree on a settlement scheme acceptable to all.

In this regard–she attached high importance to the direct contacts between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan–who have already agreed upon several components of a peace plan during their talks. She refrained from naming these components–explaining that it was a confidential matter.

Ferrero-Waldner called upon the countries and peoples to develop and implement joint projects to build mutual confidence. Such may be water sharing projects–or–for example–possibilities of some communications in the security field at the borders. As the best example of confidence building measure the OSCE official referred to Monday’s release of four prisoners of war from Nagorno Karabakh and two from Armenia–describing it as a fine gesture and an excellent message she would take to Azerbaijan.

Ferrero-Waldner hailed the recent voting of the PACE in favor of Armenia’s admission to the Council of Europe. "The development of democratic institutions is a way that will lead your country to prosperity–well-being of people and economic–market society–and in this sense your membership in the Council of Europe will be a positive step forward and will also contribute to the establishment of peace in the region," she commented. Yet–she added–Armenia’still needs to accomplish reforms–specifically in its judicial system. She stated she hopes the country will cope with all the arising difficulties in a year’s time.

For his part–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that to become a member of this prestigious pan-European organization Armenia pledged to meet all the requiremen’s set to it within one or two years. "In a year Armenia will have a much stronger democracy than it has today. As a member of the Council of Europe we have a closer deadline to become a full-fledged democratic state," the minister underscored.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian also held a meeting Monday with Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The sides stressed the need for steps aimed at strengthening the confidence between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ferrero-Waldner pointed out the usefulness of the two countries’ cooperation in implementing various economic programs. President Kocharian agreed that the creation of an atmosphere of mutual confidence will allow any conflict to be settled much easier.

The president pointed out the importance of a regional security system to build stability in the region. President Kocharian holds the opinion that such a system will allow the countries of the region to resolve numerous current problems–settle conflicts–established a long-lasting peace and think about development.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner offered Kocharian an invitation to pay an official visit to Austria.

Karabakh president Arkady Ghoukassian also re-confirmed his interest in settling the conflict by peaceful means during a telephone conversation with Ferrero-Waldner Monday.

Ferrero-Waldner was quoted by Ghoukassian’s press office as expressing regret that she could not meet personally with him. She said her first visit to the region as the head of the OSCE was a fact-finding one. She also expressed hope that her meetings with Armenia and Azeri key officials would be fruitful. Ferrero-Waldner stressed–in particular–the role of Karabakh in the peaceful solution of the conflict.

Referring to the OSCE Minsk group co-chairs pledges to promote economic development in the region–the two sides emphasized the economic factor for reaching long-lasting peace and stability. In reply to the OSCE head request–the Ghoukassian issued the release of four Azeri prisoners of war as a good gesture will.

Meanwhile–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev told Ferrero-Waldner Tuesday it was time to speed up efforts to solve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

“I think that the OSCE ought to activate its work and be more responsive. At the same time I will continue my meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian,” the Azeri leader told Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Austria currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the organization that has been mediating in negotiations over the territory–populated by ethnic Armenia’s but administered by neighboring Azerbaijan.

Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said Ferrero-Waldner had made no new proposals to settle the conflict.

“The OSCE has brought no new proposals–although there are some elemen’s that need to be carefully looked at,” Guliyev said after his talks with the OSCE head without elaborating.

Ferrero-Waldner welcomed the hand-over of six Azeri prisoners of war on Tuesday–flown to Baku airport aboard a UN aircraft. She said the meetings between the two leaders of the former Soviet republics had helped the process.

“I think that there is some hope for a settlement as there is political will on both sides,” she said during the half-hour meeting with the leader of the Caspian Sea state.

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