US OSCE Expect Progress Next Year in Karabagh Peace Process

PRAGUE (RFE/RL)–The United States and several international organizations–including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–have expressed hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will achieve a breakthrough in 2006 in their protracted negotiations on resolving the Karabagh conflict.

Referring to the progress made over the last year–US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said–"we very much welcome the positive movement from Azerbaijan and Armenia toward resolving the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict… we believe 2006 can be the year when Armenia and Azerbaijan may take major steps towards a strong and just peace."

The OSCE also released a statement Tuesday–confirming that the conflicting parties have made major headway towards a peaceful settlement during their so-called "Prague process" of negotiations. "We believe that the parties are now poised to make the transition from negotiation to decision and that there are serious benefits within reach for all," it said.

"We encourage the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to use the current promising window of opportunity in order to attain within the coming year significant achievemen’s in the settlement of the conflict," the statement added–heightening expectations for the upcoming meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocharian.

Further progress in the peace process depends on the results of this next–possibly decisive meeting of the Armenian and Azeri presidents–which will likely take place in January. Armenian Prime Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azeri counterpart Mamedyarov failed to agree on the date and venue of their next meeting but hope to set one later this month.

Burns emphasized the hopes pinned on the Armenian-Azeri summit by saying: "We encourage the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to work vigorously with the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to achieve [peace] and transform the painful divisions of the past so that the people of the Caucasus can put the Nagorno-Karabagh problem behind them."

The two statemen’s were released following a three-day meeting in Slovenia of the foreign ministers of OSCE member states–including Armenia and Azerbaijan. There–Oskanian and Mamedyarov met on the sidelines of the forum to discuss the Karabagh conflict in the presence of the French–Russian–and US co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Oskanian echoed the international community’s optimism about prospects for the resolution of the Karabagh conflict. He stressed the fact that it was the first time that the OSCE’s governing Ministerial Council expressed its satisfaction with the peace process. He noted that its previous statemen’s on Karabagh usually regretted the lack of progress in the process mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.

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