YEREVAN (RFE-RL–Itar-Tass)–President Robert Kocharian indicated on Tuesday that Armenia’s position on settling ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union is different from that of other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Speaking at a joint conference following the CIS summit in Moscow–Kocharian highlighted his country’s "separate position on that issue" amid overwhelming support by other ex-Soviet leaders for the principle of territorial integrity. Earlier in the day–Russia’s Acting President Vladimir Putin said Moscow stands for the "absolute recognition of territorial integrity" in conflict resolution. Armenia–on the other hand–has long insisted that principle should not apply to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh–which it does not view as part of Azerbaijan. During the 1996 summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–Yerevan vetoed a clause in a final document upholding Azeri sovereignty over the disputed territory.
Putin’s remarks were made after a meeting between the presidents of the three South Caucasus states attended by the Russian leader. They came against the background of Moscow’s four-month military campaign to regain control over its breakaway region of Chechnya bordering on Georgia.
Putin on Monday hosted a separate meeting between Kocharian and his Azeri counterpart Haydar Aliyev–with the Karabakh issue topping the agenda. He said Russia’supports the ongoing direct contacts between the two leaders and expressed optimism about their results. "Russia is ready to act as a guarantor of any agreemen’s reached by the leaders of the two countries," he said. Russia is one of three co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group which is currently working on a new Karabakh peace plan.
Putin–speaking at a news conference on Tuesday on the results of the Commonwealth summit–noted that "the Caucasus can be called without any overestimation one of the most difficult regions in the world," reported the Itar-Tass news agency.
Turning to the dialogue between Azerbaijan–Armenia–Georgia and Russia on Caucasus problems–Putin emphasized that all the four countries proceed from the premise that "their joint work in the regional sphere should not create new obstacles" in relations with other countries.
"We shall operate under the well-known medical principle–not to harm," Putin noted.
He stressed that the four countries will operate "on the principles of international law–one of the most important of which is absolute recognition of territorial integrity of a sovereign state."
"Only one thing should be the final aim of our activities: to create conditions for stability–peace and prosperity," Putin continued.
Azeri President Haydar Aliyev called on Russia to pay more "close attention" to the Caucasian region. He claimed that "until now–Russia did not pay due attention to the region."
Aliyev believes that historic responsibility rests with Russia for this region due to the fact that it is the successor of the former Soviet Union.
"Russia personally experiences difficulties–because there are difficult problems in the Caucasus," he added.
Turning to a meeting which was held in the framework of the CIS summit between the leaders of Azerbaijan–Armenia–Georgia and Russia on the Caucasian problems–Aliyev expressed opinion that "it is too early to speak about solutions–but this is already a forward movement".
He noted that Russia displayed "great interest in ensuring security and cooperation in the Caucasus." To achieve this aim–in his opinion–it is necessary–above all–"to remove the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan."
"I believe the meeting was very useful–but this is the start of our further cooperation," the Azeri president underlined.
Also on Tuesday–Putin held a series of bilateral meetings with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev–Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze–Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov–Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Armenian President Robert Kocharian.
The Armenian delegation led by Kocharian left for Moscow Monday to participate in the meeting of the CIS Heads of State Council.
The delegation includes Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan–Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian–Minister of Defense Vagharshak Haroutiunian–Minister of Agriculture Gagik Shahbazian–and other officials.
The Summit was expected to discuss the program of cooperation between the CIS member-countries until 2005. The provisions on the CIS Executive Council and Economic Council are also to be approved.
The Summit will discuss the problems of combating international terrorism in light of the results of the OSCE Istanbul Summit.
The CIS leaders will also address the settlement of the Abkhazian conflict. In that connection–the CIS Executive Council will report on the execution of the decision made at the meeting of the CIS Heads of State Council on April 2–1999.
The Summit participants are also to discuss tasks of the joint anti-monopoly policy–creation of a free trade zone–a number of organizational matters