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US, France, Russia Brief Iran On Karabakh Peace Efforts


WASHINGTON, (AFP) - US and Iranian diplomats met Friday in Paris as the United States, France and Russia briefed Iran on work to resolve the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, the State Department said.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said representatives of the United States, France and Russia, the co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh, gave the Iranian diplomat "a briefing on the state of play" in peace efforts.

"We recognize that, as a neighboring state to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, that Iran has legitimate interest in being informed about the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, and that's what we did at this meeting," he told reporters.

"The basic message is we remain interested," Boucher said the Iranian was told. "We continue to work with the parties and talk with them about the possibilities of progress."

The three countries, which operate under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), agreed to brief Iran on their work in April 2001 during a round of negotiations with the leaders of Armenian and Azerbaijan in Key West, Florida. "This was merely the implementation of that public offer," Boucher said.

On Wednesday, the department announced that the meeting had been scheduled but said it signaled no change in US policy toward Iran. "This meeting was arranged in the normal course of OSCE Minsk Group activity and does not represent any change in US policy toward Iran," Eliza Koch, a department spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

The United States and Iran, which President George W. Bush has labeled part of "an axis of evil" of countries sponsoring terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction, severed diplomatic relations 22 years ago after the Islamic Revolution.

Also Wednesday, Boucher denied a claim from an influential Iranian lawmaker that Iran and the United States have been engaged in secret bilateral talks. Boucher maintained that apart from casual or accidental meetings between diplomats, Washington had no bilateral contacts with Tehran and met only with Iranian officials in the context of international fora, such as the multilateral grouping that deals with Afghanistan.
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