Global Policy Forum

Bush Encourages Resolution of Conflict

April 10, 2001

President Bush urged the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia today to keep up momentum toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr. Bush held separate meetings with the Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, and President Haydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan at the White House in the wake of their peace talks last week in Florida, which ended on an upbeat note with both sides reporting excellent progress.

The two former Soviet republics have been split for 13 years over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, dominated by ethnic Armenians who tried to secede from Azerbaijan in 1988. About 35,000 people have died in the conflict, which also drove some 800,000 Azeris from their homes before a formal cease-fire in 1994. Despite the truce, about 200 people are killed each year by land mines and snipers, destabilizing Azerbaijan.

Some interests in the United States are eager to see an end to the conflict, in the hope that stability will help Azerbaijan become a major oil supplier for Western markets. "The president encouraged both leaders to keep at the process, to work to overcome the differences," said a senior administration official. "And all the parties to the discussion agreed that peace will bring considerable benefits to the region, to the peoples of both countries and to the entire South Caucasus region and beyond," the official said.

Mr. Bush invited the two leaders in for meetings as a sign of respect for the work they did last week in Key West, Fla., in talks held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, with the aid of American, French and Russian mediators. Mr. Aliyev told reporters after the meeting, "We are hopeful the United States of America and other co- chairs will intensify their efforts in order to achieve peaceful resolution to this conflict."

Two senior American officials who briefed reporters declined to provide details on the differences remaining between the two sides and how close they were to an agreement. Items on the table in the Key West talks included the presence of Armenian forces in the disputed region, trade blockades that have crippled the local economy, the resettlement of refugees left homeless by the war, and how much autonomy the Nagorno-Karabakh region should have. Mr. Aliyev would also make no predictions, and Mr. Kocharian left without talking to reporters. "I haven't had a chance to measure how close we are now," Mr. Aliyev said.

Meetings in January and earlier this month in Paris failed to make headway. The pair are to meet again in Switzerland in June. One senior American official praised the roles of Russia and France in the peace effort, and cited Russia's involvement as an example of the genuine cooperation the United States can make with Russia at a time of some frictions with Moscow over American plans for a missile defense system.

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