YEREVAN (combined sources)–US Ambassador to Armenia Michael Lemmon indicated Thursday that the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the course of this year appears a real possibility following the latest round of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. "This is a long–complicated and difficult process," Lemmon told RFE/RL. "Let’s hope and pray that this year–the year of the 1700th anniversary [of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity]–we can culminate it with a mutually acceptable–compromise settlement that all the parties can live with."
The US–which leads the OSCE’s Minsk Group jointly with Russia and France–played a central role in the latest international push to end the 13-year territorial dispute. President George Bush met with the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in the White House on Monday–urging them to keep up the momentum toward a peaceful settlement. The separate meetings followed four days of intense peace talks in Key West–Florida–which the mediators said produced substantial progress. However–details of agreemen’s reached on the resort island have not been publicized yet–with the co-chairs saying that they will form the basis of the Minsk Group’s new peace proposal on Karabakh to be submitted to the parties in June. Lemmon made it clear that "there is a long way yet to go." The new plan will be based on a "win-win approach," the diplomat noted without elaborating.
President Robert Kocharian expressed confidence on his return to Yerevan on Wednesday that the plan will not contradict Armenia’s and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s position on the issue. "The talks were another step toward moving to peace," Kocharian said. "As far as we are concerned–I can asses the course of the negotiations as positive," expressing hope that the same results were achieved with the Azerbaijani delegation.
He said the mediators will again come up with a "package" deal on all sticking points–including Karabakh’s status. "The Armenian delegation did not have direct negotiations with the Azerbaijani delegation in the US Key West talks over Karabakh regulation–as the format of talks–offered by the OSCE Minsk group–was different from the previous ones," said the president.
"I have many times repeated the principles beyond which we do not see a settlement. They are Karabakh’s non-subordination to Baku along with an overland link with Armenia and firm security guarantees. At least–these principles will be respected," Kocharian said.
Commenting on his meeting with US President George Bush–Kocharian described it as very "useful". He said the main focus was on the regulation of the Karabakh conflict and prospects for developing US-Armenian relations. On his way back home Kocharian stopped in Paris to brief French President Jacques Chirac on the results of the negotiations. He said on Wednesday that the meeting with Chirac had been planned beforehand.
Kocharian is expected to brief leaders of Armenia’s main political parties on Friday on the results of the Key West talks and his meetings with Bush and Chirac.
An Armenian diplomatic source told RFE/RL that an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord may indeed be signed before the end of this year "if the current trends continue."We don’t quite need to prepare the public for that," the source said–strongly hinting that the new plan will address most Armenian concerns.
In Baku–meanwhile–a coalition of leading opposition groups warned the Azerbaijani authorities on Thursday against making sweeping concessions to the Armenia’s–Turan news agency reported. The Democratic Congress urged other opposition forces to stage a series of street demonstrations ahead of the next round of Karabakh talks due in Geneva next month. One of its leaders–Ali Kerimov–said Azerbaijanis should demonstrate to the international community their resolve to regain control over the disputed enclave.
The Azerbaijani daily "Zerkalo" quoted the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party–Zardusht Alizade–as accusing the authorities of having already "agreed to the loss of Karabakh in exchange for their own prosperity."