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Aliev Upbeat On Karabakh Peace Prospects

By Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev has expressed hope that the new year will see a long-awaited agreement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, highlighting an unusually upbeat mood among the conflicting parties and international mediators.

“The year 2006 offers certain hopes about in the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict,” Aliev said in his first 2006 comments that were broadcast by Azerbaijani state television late Monday.

“As you know, the OSCE Minsk Group, which has been dealing with the issue and the group’s co-chairmen, have recently intensified their activities and certain proposals have been put forward. We look into them and discuss all proposals,” he told members of Azerbaijan’s Security Council.

The proposals made by the Minsk Group’s French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs during their visit to the region last month relate to a framework peace deal which the mediators hope will be cut by Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian. The two leaders are expected to meet later this month or early next.

Armenian and Azerbaijani officials admit that further progress in the peace process depends on the outcome of the summit. “The meeting will clarify quite a lot,” Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said in a televised interview last week. It may well produce a breakthrough, he added.

The parties have reportedly been discussing a gradual resolution of the dispute that would allow Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to decide its status in a referendum. Such a vote would almost certainly formalize the disputed region’s reunification with Armenia.

Aliev indicated, however, that Baku still hopes to win back the territory. “Our position regarding the issue remains unchanged: the conflict can only be resolved within the framework of international law, and Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not a subject of negotiations,” he said.

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