During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict
Karabakh Peace Efforts Face Tough Public Jury
Date: April 19, 2001
BAKU, Apr 19, 2001 - (Reuters) With an embittered public on each side, politicians trying to end a 13-year conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh have little room for maneuver, Azerbaijan's foreign minister said on Thursday.
The new U.S. administration has tried to breathe fresh life into the flagging peace process and Secretary of State Colin Powell hosted a summit this month between the Azeri and Armenian leaders in the Florida resort of Key West.
But with moods unchanged at home, success may prove elusive.
"The conflict should not be solved by two presidents, it should be solved by two nations," Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev told Reuters in an interview.
"The idea of compromise is unpopular in both countries - nobody wants to make compromises. Unfortunately, there isn't the psychological will for a peaceful resolution of the conflict."
War broke out in the rugged mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh in the dying years of the Soviet Union, when its mainly ethnic Armenian population tried to break away from Azeri control.
Some 35,000 people were killed and 800,000 fled their homes before Azeri forces were driven out and a truce called in 1994.
Little progress has been made towards a comprehensive peace deal. Three proposals have already fallen by the wayside.
U.S., French and Russian mediators are now drawing up a fourth package after a week of closed-door talks in Key West.
Both sides have kept a vow of silence on the talks, but have been more vocal about what was not up for discussion.
Guliyev said a territorial exchange was not on the agenda. The American mediator, Special Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, said the idea of a "common state" - unprecedented in international law - had been abandoned.
Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said Nagorno-Karabakh could not exist as an enclave without a corridor to Armenia.
Guliyev said the "Lachin corridor" linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh would have to be matched by a corridor to the Azeri province of Nakhichevan, which is sandwiched between Armenia, Turkey and Iran.
The foreign minister said Azerbaijan would allow Nagorno-Karabakh a "high degree of autonomy" but only within the Azeri state. Some Azeri opposition leaders balk even at this.
They say ailing president Haydar Aliyev is prepared to capitulate to earn himself the legacy of peacemaker - and ensure power is handed down to his son Ilham.
"President Aliyev wants to make great compromises for a solution to Karabakh," Ali Kerimov, leader of the Popular Front, told Reuters.
"What does high autonomy mean? Why should the Armenians be more special than any other ethnic group? In Azerbaijan, there is no one but Haydar Aliyev who wants to make such compromises."
Many Azeris seem to agree they are victims of aggression and should not be asked to offer the Armenians anything.
Armenian forces not only control Nagorno-Karabakh, but also a large buffer of Azeri territory surrounding it. Hundreds of thousands of Azeri refugees are still sheltering in railway carriages, basements and hostels in and around the capital Baku.
"We didn't start the war, but we were the ones that suffered," said Rafig, 34, a security guard. "Now we are treated like two children in a fight, like we were both naughty."
International mediators, working within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, hope to present the new peace proposal at a new round of talks in Geneva in June.
U.S. envoy Cavanaugh said winning public opinion was the biggest hurdle to a deal which Washington hopes will allow a pipeline to carry oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.
"The most difficult issue is convincing the populations of both countries on the merits of making significant compromises to achieve peace," Cavanaugh said by telephone from Washington.
"The populations are not as far along as the presidents, and it will certainly be a daunting task."
(C)2001 Copyright Reuters Limited
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