NEW YORK — The chief U.S. negotiator said he believes that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan can settle a 13-year-old conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, one of Europe's almost forgotten disputes. Armenia's president, however, was more cautious.
U.S. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh said last week that the "peace process is accelerating" after "dramatic momentum" during negotiations between Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and Azerbaijani President Heydar A. Aliyev in Key West, Fla., last month.
"I believe these presidents can find a peace agreement that they would be satisfied with," Cavanaugh told an Armenian investment forum. "It has to be 100%. They're working hard toward the 100%, and they're not there yet, but they're getting closer all the time."
Kocharyan, who also attended the forum, was less sanguine in an interview, calling himself "a realist" and refusing to forecast when an agreement might be reached.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous territory populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but nestled inside predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan. Its declaration of independence in 1988 sparked a six-year war that killed an estimated 30,000 people and drove about 1 million, mostly Azerbaijanis, from their homes.
While a 1994 cease-fire has largely held, about 200 people die every year as a result of the conflict, and the two southern Caucasus nations have failed to resolve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh's claims to independence.
In the last two years, Kocharyan and Aliyev have held more than 15 meetings as part of a peace process shepherded by the United States, Russia and France. The next round of negotiations is expected to start in Geneva in June.
Kocharyan was meeting representatives from the three co-sponsors in New York on Saturday to prepare for next months' talks.
Kocharyan said the outline of a settlement proposal is clear but that the details are very important and could take time to work out. If an agreement is reached, Kocharyan said, it will take up to a year to implement--and the Armenian parliament would have to give its approval.