Kocharian Aliyev to Meet With Bush

KEY WEST–FL. (combined sources)–On Friday–April 6–the White House announced the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia–in Florida this week for peace talks over the war-torn Nagorno-Karabakh region–will meet with US President George W. Bush early next week.

Officials in Key West said the two presidents would leave Florida for Washington on Sunday–but had not yet decided whether to continue the talks on Saturday.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush would meet Azeri President Heydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian separately at the White House on Monday–April 9. Fleischer did not say what the president hoped to accomplish in the meetings–or if they were related to the peace talks.

"This indicates that they have made progress here," a US official involved in the peace talks in Key West said. "The (negotiators) have indicated that in one week they were able to make substantially more progress than in previous meetings," he added.

The US–Russian and French efforts to push the peace process forward continued on Thursday in lengthy separate meetings with Kocharian and Aliyev. Although no major breakthrough has been announced yet–the negotiating trio remains cautiously optimistic about chances of a framework peace agreement on the Armenian-controlled disputed enclave.

US top negotiator Carey Cavanaugh said the toughest obstacle to peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is persuading people whose lives have been torn apart by war to accept the painful compromises needed to end 13 years of conflict. Many people in both countries understand that the conflict has hurt their chances for economic recovery and political stability–he said–but it will be hard to sell them on a compromise. "The biggest challenge that faces the presidents–if they’re able to achieve peace at a negotiating table–is to convince the people that this price is the right price for the future that comes with peace," he added.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said late Thursday–April 5th–that the leadership of Azerbaijan holds the key to the success of the ongoing peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh. Oskanian said the separate sessions between international mediators and Kocharian are proceeding successfully and that a similar progress in the mediators’ meetings with the Azerbaijani side could pave the way for a long-awaited breakthrough. "As far as we are concerned–the meetings are proceeding in a normal way," he said–adding that if there is a similar positive movement on the Azerbaijani side–some progress might be made by Friday evening.

Oskanian added that the Armenian side is not yet informed about details of the intensive discussions between the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group and President Aliyev.

Oskanian also commented on the border expert group formed by the Minsk Group. "We and the co-chairs have indeed worked very seriously on maps with equipped and knowledgeable experts," he said.

Aliyev and Kocharian met Thursday evening for a schooner cruise off the island. It was their first face-to-face encounter since Tuesday’s official opening of the peace talks.

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