Talks in Key West End; Aliyev Kocharian Move On to Washington

KEY WEST–FL. (combined sources)–The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia made excellent progress in peace talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh region–which ended in Florida on Friday–April 6.

"This has been a bold and significant step forward," said Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh–chief US negotiator–commenting on the results of the Key West talks. "We are farther along today on an agreement for possible peace than we have ever been."

The remarks were echoed by his French counterpart–Ambassador Jean-Jacques Gaillarde–who told reporters: "We are much closer to peace than we were before this conference."

At the conclusion of Key West peace talks–the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen presented a communique which resumed the results of the meeting. "The presidents demonstrated goodwill and a strong commitment to resolve this conflict on the basis of mutual compromise," the three co-chairs said in the joint statement. They added–"The co-chairs are preparing a new comprehensive proposal that addresses the problems and needs identified by the presidents that require solution to achieve peace."

The mediators also announced that a new round of talks will be held in Geneva in June.

They refused to discuss specifics except to say Azeri President Heydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian were committed to "mutual compromise" and to strengthening the fragile cease-fire agreement reached in 1994 in the oil-rich Nagorno-Karabakh.

US–French–and Russian mediators–acting under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–are preparing "a new comprehensive proposal for peace" to be discussed in Geneva–Cavanaugh said.

The negotiators said the format used in Key West–which included separate meetings with the two presidents–proved so successful it will be repeated in Geneva. "The format that we have launched here is a prescription for advancement that has never existed before in this conflict," Cavanaugh said.

Items on the table during the Key West talks included the presence of Armenian forces in the disputed region–trade blockage that have crippled the region’s economy–the resettlement of refugees left homeless by the war–and how much autonomy the Nagorno-Karabakh region should have.

Karabakh’s future status is the thorniest issue in the long-running negotiating process. The Mink Group’s previous plan called for the creation of a loose confederation between Azerbaijan and the disputed region. Baku’s opposition to the idea of a "common state" with the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was reaffirmed by Aliyev at the start of the Florida talks. Karabakh Armenia’s–on the other hand–maintain that they will never agree to be "subordinated" to Azerbaijan again.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the Armenian side and the mediators reached a mutual understanding during this week’s proximity talks. He also said the success of the peace efforts depends on the position taken by Azerbaijani leadership.

"There is still a lot of work to do before we have a peace agreement," Gaillarde said at the close of the talks.

With a surprise announcement on the fourth day of peace talks–the US State Department confirmed Friday that Presidents Heydar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian will travel to Washington–D.C–for a meeting with President Bush. A senior US administration official said Bush invited them to Washington to show respect for the presidents’ efforts.

American diplomats said that Bush–who currently has a very tight work schedule–would not have agreed to receive them without major forward movement in the Karabakh negotiations. White House officials have confirmed that the leaders will meet separately with President Bush.

"It’s rare that you have presidents devoting so much time–taking away their time from their countries," Cavanaugh said. "President Bush sees that as the kind of attitude that is to be admired."

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