By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
The United States hopes that Armenia and Azerbaijan will achieve a breakthrough next year in their protracted negotiations on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said late Tuesday.
“We very much welcome the positive movement from Azerbaijan and Armenia toward resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he told reporters in reference to substantial progress reportedly made by the parties over the past year. “We believe 2006 can be the year when Armenia and Azerbaijan may take major steps towards a strong and just peace.”
Burns spoke in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana following a three-day meeting of the foreign ministers of the OSCE member states, including Armenia and Azerbaijan. Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov met on the sidelines of the forum to discuss the Karabakh conflict in the presence of the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
Oskanian told RFE/RL that further progress in the peace process depends on the results of the next, possibly decisive meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. He said he and Mammadyarov failed to agree on its date and venue but was confident that that will be cleared up later this month. The mediating troika had earlier suggested that Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian meet in January.
Burns underscored the hopes pinned on the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit when he said, “We encourage the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to work vigorously with the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to achieve [peace] and transform the painful divisions of the past so that the people of the Caucasus can put the Nagorno-Karabakh problem behind them.”
The conflicting parties have reportedly been discussing a gradual settlement of the dispute that would enable the population of Karabakh to determine its status in a referendum.