BAKU: Bush-Putin meeting to form new policy on Karabakh problem

Bush-Putin meeting to form new policy on Karabakh problem – Azeri ex-minister

Yeni Azarbaycan, Baku
26 Jan 05

Azerbaijan’s former foreign minister has said the USA’s policy on the
South Caucasus will undergo fundamental changes under the new US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In his interview with the
pro-government newspaper Yeni Azarbaycan, Tofiq Zulfuqarov said that
the USA now realizes that the “frozen” conflicts are hampering
economic development, as well as social and political reforms in the
region. Zulfuqarov added that US President George W. Bush and Russian
President Vladimir Putin will adopt a new policy on the settlement of
the conflicts in the South Caucasus during their forthcoming meeting
in Bratislava. The following is the text of Rufat Ahmad’s report by
Azerbaijani newspaper Yeni Azarbaycan on 26 January headlined “Neither
the USA, nor Russia are happy with the situation in the South
Caucasus” and subheaded “America insists on resolving the
conflicts”. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

The White House is not happy with Russia’s position on the frozen
conflicts in the South Caucasus. The US stand has become even tougher
since the former national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, took
over as secretary of state. The Bush administration’s serious
criticism of Russia over the last week has become even harsher in
Rice’s statements. She said that the no war no peace situation in the
region poses a serious threat to the development of democracy.

On the other hand, the fact that the Kremlin has come under criticism
ahead of the Bush-Putin meeting in Bratislava next month has given
political analysts serious food for thought. The discussions on the
South Caucasus between the two world centres of power will help
improve the situation in any case, because Russian Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov who commented on Rice’s critical remarks has said that
his country is ready to hear constructive criticism.

What kind of effect can Rice’s statement have on the situation in the
South Caucasus? We asked Azerbaijan’s former foreign minister, Tofiq
Zulfuqarov, to comment on this.

New South Caucasus policy

Correspondent Does this criticism mean that the White House is trying
to take the initiative in the region?

Zulfuqarov The USA and Russia have said at different levels that they
share a common position on the settlement of conflicts in the region
and that they are trying to resolve the conflicts peacefully. The
statement made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a new
factor. At least it shows that cooperation between the USA and Russia
in mediating the settlement of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict, which
emerged as a result of the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan,
will undergo certain changes. In that respect, the Bratislava meeting
will form a new policy on the conflicts in the South Caucasus.

Correspondent Russia stepped up its activities immediately after the
statement of the US secretary of state. What do you think is the link
between Lavrov’s visit to the South Caucasus and this statement?

Zulfuqarov To be honest, the long-lasting cooperation between the USA
and Russia has not resolved the conflicts. In fact, there is no
progress in these conflicts. The only achievement is that the
cease-fire has been secured. However, the sides are still far from a
political settlement to the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict. From this
point of view, it cannot be ruled out that some political circles in
Russia have realized the importance of changing the current policy.

After Condoleezza Rice’s statement, Sergey Lavrov was also expected to
criticize the opposite side. From this point of view, mutual criticism
shows that both countries are not happy with the current
situation. And this is a positive factor, because the mutually
critical statements are expected to be followed by discussions that
will clarify the situation. I think that some approaches and a more
active position will emerge during these discussions, which is in our

Conflicts hamper reforms

Correspondent The Astana meeting was followed by some activity
regarding Nagornyy Karabakh. The Bratislava meeting will cover a
broader aspect. What possible changes may Russia and the USA make to
their policies after discussing the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict in

Zulfuqarov Under Colin Powell, the Department of State and the
Department of Defence had different views on different issues,
including the South Caucasus. The Security Council gave more
prominence to Donald Rumsfeld’s position on the South Caucasus. From
this point of view, Rice’s appointment as secretary of state will lead
to fundamental changes in US policy on our region. US political
circles already realize that other goals will be difficult to achieve
until the conflicts are resolved. The White House is not hiding its
intentions. Economic development, social and political reforms will
drag on as long as the conflicts have not been resolved. From this
point of view, the frozen conflicts should have been resolved a long
time ago.

The USA will be more insistent on this policy. This insistence will
manifest itself in various spheres. I think that the USA will be
active in its policy on the countries of the region, as well as

Correspondent Do you expect any activity in the settlement of the
South Caucasus conflicts in the near future?

Zulfuqarov The Azerbaijani government has made it clear that the main
issue hampering the development of the country is the Armenian
occupation of Nagornyy Karabakh. Work has been carried out in this
direction. Now the situation is more favourable for these statements
to yield results. Naturally, our policy will also become more active
after the Bratislava meeting, because one can sense the desire of the
centres of power to resolve the problems.