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By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
International mediators urged Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday to take the final step towards a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that a framework peace accord is now within their reach.

High-level diplomats from France, Russia and the United States made the appeal as they wrapped up an extraordinary joint visit to Baku and Yerevan which produced agreement on the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Karabakh. A spokesman for President Robert Kocharian told RFE/RL that the Armenian leader and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliev, will meet on the sidelines of a summit of Black Sea nations which is scheduled to take place in Romania’s capital Bucharest on June 5.

In a joint statement read out to the media after their talks with Kocharian, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and a top French diplomat, Pierre Morel, indicated that they expect that meeting to yield a breakthrough in the prolonged peace process. They stressed that “now is the time for the sides to reach agreement on the basic principles of a settlement.”

The decision by the three men to accompany lower-level American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group on their latest round of shuttle diplomacy is quite significant in itself. The three mediating powers seem to be making a last-ditch attempt to secure a Karabakh peace deal before the end of this year. They have warned that their failure to do so would delay a settlement until after presidential elections due in Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2007 and 2008.

“A joint mission such as this one is a special event,” Fried, Karasin and Morel said in their statement. “It must be taken as a sign of the seriousness with which we approach the issue and, in particular, a belief that we are at the point where a mutually beneficial agreement is achievable. What happens now will up be up to Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

“We leave with hopes and expectations of progress,” they added.

The three officials, who refused to answer any questions from journalists, described as “constructive” their meetings with Kocharian and Aliev which took place on Thursday and Wednesday respectively. But they as well as the press services of the Armenian and Azerbaijani did not divulge any details of the talks.

The mediators had hoped that Aliev and Kocharian will cut a framework agreement during their last meeting at the Rambouillet castle near Paris in February. However, the two leaders failed to live up to those expectations despite indications that the conflicting parties agreed in principle to a deal that would enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to decide the disputed region’s status in a referendum. The vote would reportedly take place within 10 to 15 years from the start of Armenian withdrawal from six of the seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh.

Following the Rambouillet summit the mediators presented the parties with what they described as new peace proposals designed to end the impasse. But as Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov implied on Wednesday, the peace formula that was discussed at Rambouillet essentially remains on the table. The Azerbaijani news agency Trend quoted him as saying that the ideas suggested by the Minsk Group co-chairs are not quite new.

“With such statements the co-chairs simply want to increase the significance of their activities in the eyes of the public,” Azimov said.

(Photolur photo: Fried, left, Karasin, center, and Morel presenting their joint statement to journalists.)
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