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By Emil Danielyan
International mediators seeking a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute may put off a planned visit to the zone of conflict this month because of the deteriorating condition of Azerbaijan’s ailing president, a senior Armenian government source said on Thursday.

The French, Russian and U.S. diplomats co-chairing the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were scheduled to arrive in the region on May 18 for a new round of shuttle diplomacy. Their long-running peace efforts were effectively put on hold late last year in anticipation of the presidential elections in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The mediators met in Paris on Wednesday to discuss new peace proposals which they are expected to submit to the conflicting parties during yet another tour of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, Itar-Tass news agency reported. No details of the proposals are known yet.

The Armenian source, who asked not to be identified, said the troika may be forced to postpone the trip because of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev’s absence from Baku. Aliev, who turns 80 this week, is undergoing medical treatment in an elite clinic in Turkey days after dramatically collapsing in public in the Azerbaijani capital. Officials there said the fall was caused by a sudden drop in his blood pressure.

With no date set yet for Aliev’s return to Baku, there is mounting speculation about his imminent exit from power which could set off a bitter power struggle in Azerbaijan. That could in turn dim hopes for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict anytime soon. Many of Aliev’s political opponents, favor a tougher line on the issue.

The Azeri leader and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, have held frequent face-to-face talks on Karabakh in recent years and were close to hammering out a peace deal in April 2001. The international mediators hoped that the two men could achieve a breakthrough after securing reelection in this year’s presidential polls.

Official Yerevan has so far refused to comment on possible developments in post-Aliev Azerbaijan and their impact on the Karabakh peace process.
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