ANKARA: Progress Made On Karabakh, Says Envoy


Dec 6 2008

HELSINKI – Azerbaijan and Armenia are showing a new resolve to settle
a conflict that could threaten oil exports to the West if it flares
again into fighting, an international mediator said.

The ex-Soviet neighbors fought a war in the early 1990s over the
mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Their troops still fight
skirmishes there despite a ceasefire, and attempts to broker a peace
deal have repeatedly foundered.

But the outlook for an agreement is now looking more positive
because of a new rapport between the two countries’ presidents, said
Matthew Bryza, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary State and one of three
international mediators in the conflict.

"We can say there is progress," Bryza told Reuters on late Thursday on
the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in the Finnish capital. Armenian
President Serge Sarkisian and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev have
held two rounds of talks in the last six months and their foreign
ministers met in Helsinki.

Positive mood "The mood between presidents Aliyev and Sarkisian has
improved, significantly," said Bryza. "They both respect each other,
number one, and are beginning to trust each other, number two. And,
number three, they have expressed a willingness to be constructive,
meaning take into account what the other side needs to reach a deal."

"Both presidents said ‘OK, I think I’m ready to move ahead. Let’s
try to finalise these basic principles (for a peace deal). I’m ready
to work with my counterpart’." He said there was still a lot of work
to be done before fundamental differences between the two sides on
the future of Nagorno-Karabakh could be bridged. Nagorno-Karabakh is
internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Since the fighting
it — along with surrounding Azeri districts — have been under the
de facto control of ethnic Armenian separatists, with support from
Armenia. The fighting killed about 35,000 people and displaced around
one million civilians, with most of them still unable to return to
their homes nearly two decades later.

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