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By Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijan’s President Heydar Aliev said on Saturday chances for talks with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh are even slimmer after his latest meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian. The announcement was the first official confirmation of reports that the two men failed to iron out their differences holding up a crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit during the encounter on the sidelines of a summit of ex-Soviet states in Belarus. Official Yerevan declined to comment.



“Negotiations we’ve had in Minsk lessened the possibility of holding a summit” which had been pencilled in for Geneva on June 15, Aliev told reporters upon arrival back in Baku. “For the Geneva meeting to go ahead certain conditions must be in place and my and Kocharian’s positions on the settlement are quite different, though they are not worlds apart," he said, according to Reuters.

The talks in Minsk were mediated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said afterwards that Moscow, as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, will step up its efforts to bring en end to the 13-year-old conflict. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders praised Russia’s role in the peace process.

Aliev said he asked Putin to raise the Karabakh issue with US President George W. Bush when the two meet in Slovenia on June 16. He also made it clear that the postponement of the Geneva summit by no means signified that peace negotiations were dead in the water. "During the Minsk meeting we agreed with Kocharian to
continue talks until a peaceful solution is found," he said.

French, Russian and US negotiators leading the Minsk Group believed they were closer than ever to a deal after Kocharian and Aliev held four days of talks in the
Florida resort of Key West in April. Some of them predicted that the Geneva talks will produce a breakthrough.

The mediators switched back to their usual cautious rhetoric at the end of their recent tour of zone of conflict. The chief French negotiator, Philippe de Suremain, told RFE/RL earlier this week that the troika decided to shelve its plans for the summit after Aliev and Kocharian asked for more time to prepare their respective publics for mutual compromise.

But a spokesman for the Armenian president insisted on Saturday that Yerevan did not ask the mediators to put off the Geneva meeting, implicitly blaming the Azerbaijani side for the impasse. “We made no requests for postponement, it was the mediators’ decision,” Vahe Gabrielian told RFE/RL. “We were ready to go to Geneva.”

Aliev on Thursday denied responsibility for the delay, dismissing claims that he is dragging his feet to try to avoid major concessions on Karabakh. Political analysts note, however, that the mediators changed their optimistic mood after their talks with the Azeri leader in Baku late last month.

In the words of Mirza Xazar, director of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, the 78-year-old president is facing a difficult dilemma. “On the one hand, Heydar Aliev is reluctant to assume the historic responsibility (to make significant concessions) and sign a peace accord with Armenia, and on the other hand, he is supporting peace process in an apparent attempt not to displease the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and to avoid any conflict with them,” Xazar wrote in the latest edition of the “RFE/RL Azerbaijan Report.”

“This contradictory policy may pay off for President Aliev morally and publicly, but it will not lead to a swift solution of the Karabakh conflict,” he said.
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