Mediators Anticipate Long Awaited Breakthrough in Talks

KEY WEST–FL. (combined sources)–Officials participating in the third day of peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh expressed cautious optimism Wednesday–after an acidic opening the day before.

"I think the discussions today have been very concrete," said State Department Special Negotiator Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh–who leads the US delegation. But the substance of the peace talks–being held on the island of Key West–was kept strictly confidential.

Cavanaugh said the face-to-face meetings of the two presidents had made it increasingly clear to them that they will have to make compromises to achieve peace–something their populations may not be ready to accept. "It’s everybody’s hope that something can be achieved and that forward progress can be made in this conflict," he said.

Cavanaugh also added that while Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) representatives themselves were not present at the negotiating table–the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs have visited the capital Stepanakert–to learn the views of the NKR authorities. He also added that the Armenian delegation is in regular contact with NKR officials–and would relay their views to the negotiating teams.

Cavanaugh further detailed the possibility of the inclusion of the Nagorno Karabakh authorities to the peace talks during an exclusive interview with Asbarez correspondent Khachik Derghoukassian. Asked about the acceptability of that inclusion soon–Ambassador Cavanaugh said that the Karabakh leadership is consulted by Armenia’s delegation. "There is intensive communication between President Kocharian and Mr. Ghoukasian–so it is not a situation where their interests and concerns are not reflected in the peace process."

He also refuted the belief that the Bush Administration’s foreign policy reflects disengagement. "It is silly to think that the US is not prepared to engage in mediation efforts around the world when we are sitting here in Key West in mediation efforts on a conflict that is not in Mexico or in Canada–that is far away from this country. We are seeing here concrete evidence that my nation will engage where it can help. You are seeing a commitment that we have as a significant world power to facilitate stability and peace around the world when we can. It is not our view that the US should be involved as intensively as is possible in every conflict around the world. But here you see an instance where we see a possibility to make a contribution and we’re doing what we can do to keep this contribution." Moreover–he said that in a peace process like that of Nagorno Karabakh "a solution can never be imposed from any country–it would not work–it would not hold. The elemen’s to support peace have to come from the region–from the parties. When it is concrete–when it has a perspective that something can be achieved you’ll see nations–and among them the US–lining up to help."

Referring to President Aliyev’s remarks that were sharply critical of the lengthy OSCE negotiations–the Armenian position–and President Kocharian’s commen’s that he had come to Florida with constructive proposals–Ambassador Cavanaugh said the interchange was "normal at this stage." He added that both presidents have different concerns coming into these talks–and are communicating messages not only to each other–but to their people at home."

Though mediators have played a growing role in the negotiations–they were adamant that no solution could be imposed. Russia–which has a defense relationship with Armenia–"is not going to use any kind of arm-twisting tactics," said First Deputy Foreign Minister and Head of the Russian delegation Viacheslav Trubnikov. "The keys to the solution of the conflict are in the hands of Azerbaijan and Armenia," he added.

During a press briefing on Thursday–April 5th–Ambassador Gaillarde–head of the French delegation–commented on the manner in which the talks are being conducted. "We (the co-chairs) work closely together–elbow to elbow. We share our assessmen’s–opinions–and decide on proposals together. In the same manner–we talk to both presidents–and I think that this positive atmosphere might produce positive results."

In a separate interview with Asbarez’s Derghoukassian–France’s representative to the OSCE Minsk Group–Jean Jacques Gaillarde–commented about the possible linkage of France’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the mediation effort to reach a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. He said both "were separate issues"–the recognition being a law that the French legislature adopted and President Chirac ratified–and the peace process a parallel issue "in which France tries to remain as impartial as possible to be able to contribute effectively to the efforts to bring a solution to the conflict. Therefore–I don’t see any linkage–I don’t see how the Genocide recognition would have contributed to the mediation efforts–it’s not the same problem." Gaillarde told Derghoukassian he sees progress in the negotiations–but cannot give details.

Other diplomatic sources–speaking on the condition of anonymity–said the likelihood of a long-awaited breakthrough is high. They were understood to imply that the two parties have been presented with new peace proposals.

Officials from both delegations have been in Key West since Tuesday–April 3rd when the meetings began. Talks will continue this week–primarily at the Little White House.

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