Aliev Kocharian Rule Out Deal Before 2003 Polls

YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Armenpress)–The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan admitted late Thursday that a long-awaited breakthrough in the stalled Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is highly unlikely before next year’s presidential elections in their countries. Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliev made the statement after yet another face-to-face meeting held in Prague on the sidelines of a NATO summit.

Commenting on intent and outcome of the meeting–President Kocharian said–"It is tradition to utilize each and every opportunity–especially those in the framework of international conferences and summits–to meet and to discuss issues on Mountainous Karabagh Republic conflict regulation. I evaluate this meeting as a positive one. Although we didn’t reach a specific goal–I am certain–as the case with any other prior meeting we have had–we registered a positive step forward this time as well.

Very few details of the direct negotiations were available.

On his arrival in the Czech capital–Kocharian went straight into talks with his 79-year-old Azerbaijani counterpart–before actually attending the summit’s sessions. After speaking one on one for about an hour–the two men were joined by the US–Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Both Aliev and Kocharian are facing reelection next year and are therefore unlikely to cut peace deals requiring unpopular mutual concessions. This reality was acknowledged on Thursday by US ambassador to Armenia–John Ordway. But he stressed that continued Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue is vital for the future of the peace process.

Aliev generally agreed with Kocharian’s views–adding that the meeting of the two presidents had become somewhat compulsory. "Each time we meet–we both agree that it is better to meet and not reach what we pursue–rather than not meet at all. We both face a difficult problem regarding the Karabagh issue. The OSCE Minsk group co-chairmen are doing their best as well. Although we fail to reach a certain agreement–each meeting registers a step toward the right direction. It is better than standing still and not doing anything. I highly appreciate this meeting and think that regardless of pre-election situations that both countries face–we should continue to do our job and continue our meetings using all possible opportunities."

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–accompanying Kocharian–said that although they have been discussing various peace options–the Armenian side will never agree to Mountainous Karabagh’s return under Azerbaijani rule.


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