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Rice Hopeful About Crucial Armenian-Azeri Talks

By Emil Danielyan

The United States underscored its hopes for a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process Thursday when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev to discuss his upcoming crucial meeting with his Armenian counterpart.

In a statement cited by the Itar-Tass news agency, Aliev’s office quoted Rice as telling the Azerbaijani leader that she “attaches great importance” to the talks that are due to take place in the Russian city of Kazan on Saturday. She was reported to express hope that they will facilitate a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict, a key U.S. goal in the region. Aliev, according to his press service, said he has similar hopes.

U.S., Russian and French diplomats spearheading the negotiating process signaled last month that Aliev and President Robert Kocharian could clear the final hurdle to peace in Kazan. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky similarly noted on July 27 their meeting “can potentially be a turning point.”

Preparations for that meeting were discussed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Moscow on Tuesday and Wednesday. Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov sounded cautiously upbeat after their talks held in the presence of the mediating troika.

Speaking to RFE/RL, Mammadyarov did not deny that the parties have been discussing a peace deal that would enable the residents of Karabakh to decide its status at a referendum.

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