Karabagh Dominates Talks between Kocharian Chirac

PARIS (Armenpress–RFE/RL)–French President Jacques Chirac–in his meeting on Wednesday with Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian–pressed for the resumption–as early as this year–of the stalled Mountainous Karabagh peace talks–as he received the Armenian president in Paris.

A spokeswoman for Chirac said that the Karabagh issue topped the meeting agenda; Chirac stressed that France and the two other international mediators–Russia and the United States–are ready to help the conflicting parties "restart dialogue."

"President Chirac insisted strongly that that dialogue begin before the end of 2003," the official said. "We want to maintain good relations with both parties in order to help them."

France–Russia and the US jointly co-chair the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which has for years been trying to broker a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh dispute. The difficult peace process ground to a halt late last year in advance of the 2003 presidential races in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The election period made a peace agreement based on serious mutual concessions even more unlikely.

Kocharian told reporters after the meeting with Chirac that he hopes the Karabakh talks will resume after the presidential election in Azerbaijan scheduled for October.

The political uncertainty is exacerbated by the poor health of Azerbaijan’s 80-year-old president–Heydar Aliev. It is still not clear whether Aliev will be able to run for a third term in office.

Kocharian arrived in Paris on Tuesday on a working visit during which he will also meet with other French officials and representatives of France’s influential Armenian community. Chirac’s press office said the two presidents also discussed bilateral ties as well as the situation in the South Caucasus–Iran and Iraq.

Kocharian met on Tuesday with the President of the French Senate M. Christian Poncelet who told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the Armenian-Azeri conflict could be resolved with a bit of good will from both sides. "I intend to convene a meeting in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku–after the Azerbaijani presidential elections in autumn–with the participation of leaders from Georgia–Azerbaijan and Armenia–to seek solutions to the regional conflicts."

Poncelet said he welcomed President Kocharian not only as the President of Armenia–but also as a true friend of France. "Our impression is that it is not only an official visit but a friendly one. Our meeting centered around the all issues of Armenian-French relations. France is the advocate of Armenia in the Council of Europe and we commend the Armenian leadership for its efforts to maintain good relations with its neighbors

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