US Official to Meet Armenian Azeri Leaders about Karabagh

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–Dan Fried–Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs–will visit Azerbaijan and Armenia next week to discuss the results of internationally sponsored peace talks on Karabagh. Fried will be accompanied by Steven Mann–Washington’s top Karabagh negotiator.

Mann and senior French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group ended a meeting in Washington this week in an attempt to salvage the Karabagh peace process after the unsuccessful meeting of Armenian and Azeri presidents in Rambouillet near Paris last month.

The co-chairs were reported to have determined their future steps for resolution of the dispute. Mann said he will give detailed information to the Presidents of the two countries during his visit to Azerbaijan and Armenia later this month with Fried.

Fried mentioned the Karabagh conflict on Wednesday as he addressed hearings on US foreign policy organized by a key House of Representatives committee. "We urge the Armenian and Azeri leaderships to seize the moment and help bring the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict to a close," he told the House International Relations Committee.

Fried’s deputy Matthew Bryza was in Yerevan earlier this week–saying after talks with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders that the conflicting parties remain "very close" to hammering out a framework peace accord. Bryza said Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart have to make "very tough decisions" to reach a peaceful settlement.

The US ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish also remains optimistic about negotiations mediated by the Minsk Group–saying that they will lead to positive results in 2006.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev–however–continues to make statemen’s demonstrating Baku’s reluctance to compromise. He stated yesterday in Tokyo that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not a topic for discussion at the negotiations over the Karabagh conflict regulation–reported the Azertag news agency.

According to him–the topics of discussions are the liberation of the occupied territories–ethnic separation–return of refugees–and granting Karabagh a higher degree of autonomy.

"All this should be done in compliance with international right and principles. We hope that the conflict will be solved in a peaceful way," said he adding that the international community should play a greater role in the conflict regulation process as the existence of the conflict is the main obstacle for the development of the region.

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