US OSCE Reaffirm Support for Karabakh Peace Process

YEREVAN (combined sources)–President George W. Bush has reaffirmed continued US interest in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in a letter to his Armenian counterpart–Robert Kocharian. The message was passed on to Kocharian by US Ambassador to Armenia Michael Lemmon on Monday–less than a week before a crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Paris which could lead to major progress in the long-running peace talks.

Bush said Washington will continue to support international efforts to find a solution to the 13-year dispute because it remains committed to bringing peace and stability to the South Caucasus.

In related news–President Bush sent a message to his Azerbaijani counterpart Heydar Aliyev which read–"Peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict is one of the priorities of the new Administration. The text of the message was publicized on February 27 in Baku.

The message stresses that the US will continue to actively participate in the peaceful process. "I personally hope that this year–through cooperation by the OSCE Minsk group–it will be possible to reach peace in the South Caucasus," the US president wrote in his message.

Bush stresses that for reaching peace both the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia and their peoples will have to make a difficult choice." The US president expresses hope that regulation of the conflict on the basis of concessions will lead to reliable peace and its further strengthening. Bush also voiced his country’s readiness to help Azerbaijani authorities in "creation of public support in the country for regulation of the conflict."

The message also stresses the US adherence to Azerbaijani sovereignty–self-governance and territorial integrity.

The US Department of State issued a statement by Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker on February 23 in regards to the upcoming meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Paris. The statement welcomes the presidents’ decision to meet in Paris–March 4-5–to continue their efforts to reach a settlement. The US is encouraged by their decision to intensify dialogue–and will work closely with the other OSCE Minsk Group Chairs–France and Russia–to help find a mutually acceptable solution. The US feels this meeting will build upon the productive exchange the two presidents had on January 26 in Paris immediately following the Strasbourg ceremonies marking Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe.

The statement recalls a recent conversation between President Bush and President Chirac about the Paris talks. Bush expressed full support for efforts to find a solution to the conflict and the commitment of the US to promote a resolution through the Minsk process. US representative to the Minsk Group–Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh–recently held consultations with senior French–Turkish–and Russian officials on advancing a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. He will travel to Paris to meet senior Minsk Group counterparts to coordinate support for the March 4-5 presidential talks.

US readiness to join international assistance efforts in support of refugee resettlement and economic reconstruction when a settlement is achieved was also mentioned in the statement.

In related news–OSCE acting chairman–Romania’s foreign minister Mircea Geoana–arrived in Armenia February 27 on a fact-finding mission and to probe into the current level of the Karabakh conflict settlement process. The Romanian minister was received by Chairman of the Armenian National Assembly Armen Khachatryan–and also met with leaders of the different parliamentary factions.

Khachatryan told the visiting minister he was hopeful that Kocharian’s and Aliyev’s upcoming meeting in Paris would bring about more positive steps in the peace process. He also told Geoana that economic ties should be established between the countries of the South Caucasus to bring about development throughout the region. Khachatryan said this should go hand in hand with the Karabakh peace process.

Mircea Geoana praised Khachatryan’s position–and appreciated the initiatives of French President Jacques Chirac. Geoana said he–the OSCE–and the international community believe in the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

In a private meeting–the Romanian minister assured President Kocharian that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict remains an important goal on the OSCE’s agenda. Geoana considers the dialogue between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents as constructive–and feels the OSCE Minsk Group will be able to come up with a resolution that will be mutually acceptable to all sides involved in the conflict. President Kocharian told Geoana that he hopes the conflict can be resolved during Romania’s chairmanship of the OSCE.

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