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By Harry Tamrazian

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said US does not believe planned local elections in Nagorno Karabakh could affect the peace process. The Council of Europe harshly criticized Nagorno-Karabakh authorities last week, saying that holding local elections on September 5 will have negative impact on peace process. The pan-European organization warned that it would not consider the polls as legitimate.

Responding to the Council of Europe's call to cancel planned local elections Nagorno-Karabakh foreign minister Naira Melkumian said, "she does not think any election could undermine a peaceful settlement of the conflict". Melkumian also said Karabakh authorities will go ahead with September elections.

"To date, we think the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter that needs to be negotiated through the Minsk process. We strongly support it and have actively been involved in that process. So we don't really think that these elections affect that process," Richard Boucher said.

A senior State Department official said new US special negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh Rudolf Vilem Perina will start his duties after November 1, when he concludes his assignment as US ambassador in Moldova. The deputy special negotiator Kenneth Hillas will serve in an acting capacity.

Richard Boucher reiterated that US supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. "We don't recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as any kind of independent country," State Department spokesman said. According to Boucher, US will not change its policy in Nagorno-Karabkh peace process. "We will continue active role that we have played and will continue to play in these negotiations."
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