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By Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, contradicting recent statements by President Heydar Aliev, has again denied that Armenia and Azerbaijan had reached a framework agreement in Paris last year on how to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

After a long denial, Aliev acknowledged last month that he and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, did agree on the so-called "Paris principles" of a peaceful settlement when they met in the French capital in March 2001. The meeting was mediated by French President Jacques Chirac.

Armenian officials say that those principles were "put on paper" during subsequent peace talks on the Florida island of Key West and that Baku reneged on the deal shortly afterwards.

Guliev, however, was quoted by Azerbaijani newspapers on Wednesday as renewing his consistent claims that no major peace deals had been struck in Paris. "I continue to stick to my opinion: the Paris principles do not exist," he said. "In Paris, the two presidents simply exchanged views on settling the conflict, just like it had happened during the negotiations in Moscow, Geneva."

"You can talk about principles when there are concrete decisions," Guliev went on. "No such decisions were taken in Paris."

The claims sharply contrasted with remarks made by Aliev on June 14. Meeting with France's new chief Karabakh negotiator, Hugues Pernet, in Baku, the Azerbaijani leader admitted that "a number of agreements were reached" in Paris, referring to them as "the Paris principles." But he alleged that it was Armenia that backtracked on them.

Armenian leaders, for their part, have accused Aliev of presenting a "distorted version" of the Paris principles, strongly denying his claims that the peace accord was based on the idea of an exchange of territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They insist that Azerbaijan would only be guaranteed an unfettered transport link with its Nakhichevan exclave via Armenia's Meghri district in exchange for recognizing Armenian control over Karabakh and the Lachin corridor.

According to Guliev, the deal mentioned by Aliev might have been only "one of the variants discussed during the negotiations." "We have already had many such variants," he said.

Guliev also confirmed that Baku now stands for a "phased" solution to the Karabakh conflict that would delay an agreement on the disputed territory's status until after the return of occupied Azerbaijani territories and the lifting of Armenia's blockade.

Jirair Libaridian, who was former Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosian's chief Karabakh envoy, said last week that Azerbaijani would accept a modified version of a step-by-step resolution whereby the Armenians would have to withdraw from only four out of seven occupied Azerbaijani districts at the initial stage. Libaridian, who is a U.S. citizen, visited Baku last month on a private trip.

Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have always insisted on a "package" peace deal that would settle all contentious issues in a single peace accord.
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