President George W. Bush urged the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Monday, to keep up momentum toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Bush held separate meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azeri President Heydar Aliyev 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. Present at both meetings were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
The United States is eager to see an end to the conflict, in hopes that greater stability will help Azerbaijan become a major oil supplier for Western markets. “The US realized today that more than ever, the region of the south Caucasus, the Caspian region, is of great importance to the strategic interests of the United States,” said Elin Suleymanov, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington.
Participants and analysts have said that several top Bush administration officials have ties to major petroleum companies, including those with interests in the Caspian region. That, along with creating a model for resolving other ethnic-based land disputes in the former Soviet Union, may be driving the US involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
“I would think oil was, in part, behind it all,” said Robert Evel, director of energy and national security affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Bush said he supports what both countries have done for peace in southwest Asia, understanding there remains a good deal of work to be done, a senior administration official said. “And all the parties in the discussion agreed that peace will bring considerable benefits to the region, to the peoples of both countries and to the entire Caucasus region and beyond,” the official added.
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 a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quiliyev said it was still early to speak about any progress. “The Key West negotiators had done their homework and we must continue working in this direction,” Quiliyev said. The minister also added that Azerbaijan would be against involving the Karabakh side into the talks, but agreed that the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Karabakh must be given an opportunity at a certain stage of the negotiations to take part in the talks.
President Kocharian left the White House without speaking to reporters, and Aliyev commented “I haven’t had a chance to measure how close we are to a resolution now.”
Kocharian left the White House and arrived in Paris on Tuesday, April 10, were he met with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the result of the talks on the Karabakh settlement.
Officials involved in the talks said they would probably be continued in Geneva in June. US diplomats said several days of talks have been confirmed for Switzerland, although exact dates and locations have not been determined.