Mediators ‘Encouraged’ By Latest Karabakh Talks

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–International mediators Monday voiced satisfaction with their latest talks with the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that the peace process is moving forward despite the approaching elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The American, French and Russian negotiators said the Armenian and Azeri leaders are displaying a "constructive approach" to their efforts to "finalize a set of basic principles for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."The presidents are defending their national interests vigorously, and they are doing so in a way that allows the peace process to continue moving forward," the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said in a joint statement issued three days after their fresh tour of the conflict zone. "The Co-Chairs urge all parties to sustain this momentum in the negotiations and to prepare their publics for the necessary compromises," they said, hinting that a framework peace accord may still be hammered out in the course of this year. President Robert Kocharian has made it clear that he will not cut any compromise deals with Azerbaijan before this spring’s Armenian parliamentary elections. Officials in Yerevan say privately that the parties and the mediators will make another push for Karabakh peace later this year, before the start of campaigning for presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan next year. Meanwhile, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has again claimed that he will never agree to any peaceful settlement that would legitimize Karabakh’s independence or unification with Armenia. In an interview with the French daily "Le Figaro" published on Monday, he said Baku is only ready to grant the Karabakh Armenia’s "the highest degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan." Armenian leaders say such commen’s are at odds with the letter and spirit of the Minsk Group’s existing peace plan that appears to accept the possibility of international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Soviet Azerbaijan. Under that plan, Karabakh’s Armenian population would be able to determine the territory’s status in a referendum. "The so-called referendum on the constitution, held in Nagorno-Karabakh last December, was absolutely illegal," added Aliyev. "Armenia’should realize that we shall never agree to the independence of that territory," he said. Responding to the question about whether or not he regarded as real the prospect of an armed settlement of the conflict, Aliyev said: "Obviously, our economic might and political prestige will make it possible for us some day to take steps for the liberation of our land. We prefer to settle the problem by peaceful means, however, without starting a war."/

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