Mediators Optimistic about Reaching Karabagh Settlement

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–International mediators remained optimistic Thursday about prospects for resolving the Karabagh conflict–saying that the peace process continues to move forward and could yield a breakthrough next year.

The American–Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said they are satisfied with their Wednesday meeting with President Robert Kocharian and look forward to holding similar talks in Baku on Friday.

"After our meeting with President Kocharian we believe–as firmly as ever–that events are moving in the right direction," the group’s American co-chair Steven Mann told a news conference.

"We are convinced that next year [will see] a real window of opportunity to achieve significant progress towards a peaceful settlement based on what has been worked out this year," agreed his French counterpart–Bernard Fassier.

Fassier stressed the fact that no elections are planned in Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2006–making it easier for their leaders to reach unpopular compromise agreemen’s on Karabagh. "We are convinced that this golden opportunity must not be missed this time," he said–warning that failure to use that opportunity would mean several more years of deadlock.

This optimism followed commen’s made Wednesday by President of Mountainous Karabagh Republic Arkady Ghukasian. He told reporters that the conflicting parties are still "pretty far from a settlement."

Foreign Minister of Armenia–Vartan Oskanian was more upbeat. "There has been positive movement this year," he said. "If that trend continues–it will be possible to expect some document to be born at the beginning of 2006. A lot depends on the next meeting of the presidents [of Armenia and Azerbaijan.]"

The co-chairs came up with a written proposal when they met with Oskanian and his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mamedyarov in Ljubljana–Slovenia last week. "We did pass written proposals on to the ministers," Russia’s chief negotiator–Yuri Merzlyakov–said.

Mann referred to them as "fundamental principles" of a settlement and said the mediators focused on its details during their meeting with Kocharian. "In our discussions with President Kocharian we covered the entire range of issues that would be involved in a Karabagh settlement," he said without elaborating.

The Minsk Group did not come up with a new peace plan in the Slovenian capital. What the parties are discussing are nine unspecified provisions that have been on the negotiating table for the last few years.

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