KEY WEST (combined sources)–US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his entourage landed in a US government plane at Boca Chica Naval Air Station at 10 a.m.–April 3rd. Powell was then whisked to the Little White House–where he had separate meetings with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia prior to the start of direct negotiations between the parties later in the afternoon.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-chairs started the Key West peace talks plenary meeting at 2 p.m. with the participation of Secretary Powell–Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev.
Before departing the Truman White House in late afternoon–Powell addressed the media in blazing sunshine outside the Little White House.
"I have met separately with Armenian President Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Aliyev–and I am confident their presence here presents an opportunity to help the two governmen’s find a solution through mutual compromise.
"The two presidents have made progress in developing some common ground–most notably in their recent meetings in Paris with French President Chirac. Still–there were differences then and still are–but the parties agree that more extended direct talks with the co-chairs offered promise.
"The Minsk Group co-chairs share a common commitment and vision on achieving peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The United States–Russia and France are working in close cooperation as the co-chairs to advance the process. We all remain prepared to support an agreement acceptable to the two presidents."
He said the talks were not the "be-all–end-all" step in negotiations–and that peace and stability in this region–the crossroads between Europe and Asia–is in the interest of the international community.
"A settlement will allow these countries to avoid the threat of renewed war. It will make them able to address the humanitarian plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and will allow them to pursue their long-term goals of security and economic development," Powell told reporters.
When asked if there were any new proposals being put forward–Powell responded: "I think there are a number of ideas that the two presidents have discussed with representatives of the co-chairs–with President Chirac and with President Putin. There are a lot of ideas out there that we will be pursuing–and I would rather not characterize new proposals–old proposals. There are common understandings and there are points of difference that we will be discussing over the next several days."
He offered as an incentive future support from powerful lending bodies–saying–"The United States working with the other co-chairs and European and multilateral institutions will do all it can to help reach that goal."
After Powell’s departure the talks will be chaired by the US special negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh. The talks are expected to last through Saturday–April 7.
A US senior official said the talks are important not only for the United States but for the countries of the region–including Russia–Turkey and Iran. "Both of these countries (Armenia–Azerbaijan) have sizable armed forces and the prospect of violence in that region leads to a situation that no country would be comfortable with"–the official said.
The United States has not only humanitarian–but economic–military and political interests in the outcome of this week’s peace talks–a state department official said on Monday April 2.
The official said the conflict between the two countries has significantly impaired democratic development in the new independent states that formed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. He added that the economic development of Azerbaijan which has substantial oil and gas reserves–was also a goal for the US. Several major US oil companies–including Exxon–Mobile and Amoco–do business in Azerbaijan.
The region is a meeting point of Russian–Turkish–US and Iranian interests–with Russia wanting Caspian oil to cross its territory and recently boosting ties with US rival Iran. Although Moscow has been alarmed by Azeri officials expressing interest in the idea of hosting NATO bases–Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov commented positively on the planned talks being conducted Key West.
Russia has been jealously watching the growth of US activity in the strategically important Transcaucasus region–whose three former Soviet states including Georgia–are Moscow’s vital interest. US support to Georgia in a series of disputes with Russia has raised eyebrows in the Kremlin. However–Ivanov made clear that Russia is fully involved in the Key West talks–pointing out that a Russian delegation has been sent to Florida.