WASHINGTON (Reuters)–President Bill Clinton and Azerbaijan President Haydar Aliyev on Tuesday discussed the prospects for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Karabakh conflict and the development of a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline from Baku to Turkey.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan has made some progress in resolving its long-standing conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh–a region located within Azerbaijan but populated mainly by ethnic Armenia’s.
Clinton and Aliyev had what the White House described as a productive–cordial meeting of 45 minutes in the Oval Office.
"I believe that these discussions were very helpful and very useful for the political peaceful settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan–and this meeting will give additional impetus to a final settlement," Aliyev told reporters after the meeting.
Asked what concessions Armenia’s and Azeris should make to reach a final settlement–such as a swap of land–Aliyev demurred.
"It is quite natural that both sides have to make compromises now that negotiations are under way in order to define all the concessions. Since the negotiations have not come to an end–I would not like to go into details about it," he said.
Clinton and Aliyev also talked about development of the so-called Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline–a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline from Baku–Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
In a ceremony attended by Clinton–Turkey–Azerbaijan and Georgia signed agreemen’s in Istanbul in November setting out the legal framework for the project.
Construction of the one million barrel per day pipeline is set to start in the third quarter of 2001–with completion planned for late 2004.
Western oil companies have signed contracts worth more than $50 billion in potential investmen’s to develop the oil production of Aliyev’s ex-Soviet Caspian Sea state.
"President Aliyev reiterated his strong commitment to the building of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and outlined the current state of talks aimed at finalizing and then implementing the framework agreement that was signed at Istanbul in November," said Jim Fallin–a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
He said Aliyev also underscored his commitment to a trans-Caspian gas pipeline that would enable Azerbaijan to export its vast natural gas reserves.
During a press conference following the meeting with Clinton–Aliyev said–"among the subjects that we discussed with the president was also the unfair–unjust law–that Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that was passed by the US Congress in 1992."
"Unfortunately–in a very fair and just country like America–in a fair Congress like you have–sometimes unfair bills are also adopted. Armenian lobby in America was the main driving force for adopting this law," added the Azeri leader.
"But this Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act is baseless. This section was adopted as if Azerbaijan has blockaded Armenia. But in fact–Armenia’s armed formations have occupied Azerbaijan’s 20 percent lands–and they continue to keep those lands under their occupation…. the repeal of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act is very important for us–and that’s why we discussed this issue in detail with President Bill Clinton as well," said Aliyev.
Armenian Americans from throughout Virginia–Maryland–and the District of Columbia gathered Tuesday along Washington’s famous Embassy Row to protest Azerbaijan’s 12-year blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and ongoing human rights abuses against its own citizens–reported that Armenian National Committee of Greater Washington.
The demonstration took place as Aliyev spoke before an audience of corporate lobbyists–public relations executives–embassy staff and think tank scholars–discussing the Nagorno Karabakh peace process–and impending oil deals in the region. Aliyev made special effort to reassure attendees of the existence of vast Azeri oil reserves–attempting to quell reports questioning the scope of the Caspian energy resources.