BAKU (Interfax–RFE/RL)–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev has described as groundless the apprehensions voiced in Yerevan regarding the security of Armenian President Robert Kocharian’s possible visit to Baku.
Aliyev invited Kocharian to attend an international conference on establishing a European-Asian transportation corridor via the Caucasus. The conference will be held in Baku on September 5-7 under the aegis of the European Union.
Kocharian has not yet made a decision on visiting Baku.
The Azeri leadership "guarantees security to the attendees of the forum," Aliyev told journalists Sunday–adding–"the European Union will provide assistance in these issues."
Meanwhile Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukasian commented evasively on Kocharian’s possible visit to Azerbaijan–welcoming direct Armenian-Azeri dealings but warning against any peace talks without the disputed region’s participation.
Speaking on Karabakh state television at the weekend–Ghoukasian said Azeri President Haydar Aliyev took a "very serious step," inviting his Armenian counterpart to attend an international conference in Baku.
The conference–scheduled for September 7 to 8–is organized by the European Union to discuss its East-West corridor program. Kocharian’s spokeswoman’s aid last week that Yerevan will participate in the conference and will decide shortly who will represent it.
Ghoukasian said it would be useful for Armenia and Azerbaijan to address their problems at the negotiating table–but made it clear that Stepanakert must not be left out of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
He praised Armenia’s "clear approach" on settling the conflict–saying that "we have a big capacity to jointly defend our positions in the international stage."
Turning to Karabakh’s internal affairs–Ghoukasian described the economic situation as "unsatisfactory," but expressed hope that the upcoming privatization will bring improvement. He pledged in particular to ensure fairness in privatizing agricultural land–in an effort to dispel widespread concerns among farmers.
He also vowed to ensure that local elections in Karabakh slated for September are democratic. "People should see that free and fair elections are possible in Karabakh," he said.