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By Karine Kalantarian
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict this year as he wrapped up his tour of the South Caucasus in Yerevan on Tuesday.

“Azerbaijan and Armenia make similar assessments of the document drafted within the framework of the [OSCE] Minsk Group: it is a good basis for continuing negotiations,” Steinmeier said after talks with Armenian leaders.

His optimism, reflecting the current mood among international mediators, was echoed by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. Asked by a journalist whether he thinks a framework peace accord on Karabakh may be signed before the end of 2007, Oskanian said, “I don’t exclude that. We and myself in particular are cautiously optimistic. The document on the table gives us such hope.”

“I think that after the parliamentary elections in Armenia there will be a window of opportunity,” he told a joint news conference with his German counterpart. “And if both parties, and especially the Azerbaijani side, display the necessary political will, it will really be possible to achieve serious progress in the course of this year.”

Speaking to RFE/RL earlier this month, the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, likewise said that the conflicting parties will make a potentially decisive push for a compromise deal in the months following the May elections. Bryza and the group’s two other co-chairs last week urged the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers to meet again soon and try to overcome their “remaining differences.”

The Karabakh conflict was high on the agenda of Steinmeier’s talks with Oskanian. The two men also discussed preparations for Armenian election scheduled for May 12. Steinmeier, whose country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, urged the Armenian authorities to ensure their freedom and fairness. EU officials say that is a necessary condition for Armenia’s successful participation in European Neighborhood Policy of privileged ties with the bloc’s neighbors.

Steinmeier’s separate meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian apparently focused on German-Armenian relations. Markarian was cited by his office as welcoming an increase in bilateral trade registered in recent years and commending Germany for being Armenia’s second largest foreign donor after the United States. The German minister, for his part, was reported to say that his country will continue to provide economic assistance to Yerevan.

(Photolur photo)
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