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By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan will never agree to any peaceful settlement that would fail to restore its control over Nagorno-Karabakh, President Ilham Aliev reiterated on Thursday.

“Nagorno-Karabakh will never be granted independence,” Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as saying during a visit to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan.

Aliev said the Karabakh Armenians should settle for a status of autonomy within Azerbaijan now or risk being offered no self-rule at all in the future. He again claimed that Armenia will find it increasingly hard to compete with his oil-rich nation.

“Azerbaijan’s state budget is seven times bigger than Armenia’s, and its military budget equals that country’s entire budget,” he said.

The most recent peace plan put forward by French, Russian and U.S. mediators appears to allow for the possibility of international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. It would enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed territory’s status in a referendum.

Despite their diametrically opposite positions on Karabakh’s status, the conflicting parties claim to have made considerable progress towards a compromise solution over the past two years. Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian raised fresh hopes for a Karabakh breakthrough following their latest face-to-face talks held in Minsk on November 28.

But Kocharian made it clear last week that he will not sign any agreements with Azerbaijan before next spring’s Armenian parliamentary elections. Analysts doubt that a peace deal will be cut before presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008.
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