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Armenia and Azerbaijan Presidents Meet In Bucharest To Discuss Karabakh

By Hrair Tamrazian and Kenan Aliyev

BUCHAREST, June 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have met for talks on the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Speaking to RFE/RL in an exclusive interview, Steven Mann, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE's Minsk Group, said that the presidents spoke for 2 1/2 hours on June 4. "There was a good atmosphere in the talks and again, a good atmosphere and a detailed discussion," he said.

The Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France, has been negotiating the conflict since 1992.

Russian Minsk Group co-chair Yury Merzlyakov said the fact that the presidents decided to meet was significant.

"Russia's position is that a settlement cannot be imposed on the two parties," Merzlyakov said. "They should reach it themselves, with the help of mediators. I think it is clear. The parties themselves bear the main responsibility for reaching a settlement."

The talks are the second time the presidents have met this year, after meeting in Rambouillet, near Paris, on February 10-11. Those talks failed to yield any agreement.

Peace Prospects

Predominantly ethnic-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh seceded from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1988, triggering a six-year war that ended with a truce. Officially, the two countries are still at war.

Both presidents are under renewed pressure to reach a framework agreement on solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by the end of this year.

Diplomats and observers have said that, with the absence of national elections in both countries, this year presents a good opportunity to reach a framework agreement.

Today, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will both speak at the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization in the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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