RICE URGES ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN NAGORNO-KARABAKH COMPROMISE

The United States attaches great importance to the upcoming meeting of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and hopes they will make the compromises necessary in order to reach a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

That was the message when Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice phoned Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev August 25, according to the U.S. State Department, The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. Department of State announced on Monday.

In terms of official policy, the United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country and supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, maintaining that the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter of negotiation between the parties, the statement outlines.

The United States also remains committed to finding a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the Minsk Group process, which is co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States.

In its statement on Rice’s discussions with the two leaders, the State Department said, “Both leaders were upbeat about the prospects for making progress.”

“The Secretary stressed to President Aliyev the importance of free and fair parliamentary elections this November in Azerbaijan, and noted his important role in this,” the statement added.

The United States has repeatedly urged Azerbaijan to meet international standards when it holds its November parliamentary elections and to implement the recommendations made by an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission after the 2003 elections.

As recently as July 2, U.S. representative Christopher Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and a Republican from New Jersey, issued a statement saying he was “very disappointed” that Azerbaijan’s parliament had passed an election law that does not incorporate many key changes recommended by international observers, especially in the composition of election commissions. (See statement released by Helsinki Commission.)

The United States has also called on Azerbaijan “to implement fully the May 11 Presidential Decree calling for the conduct of free and fair elections.”

In her phone call to Armenian President Kocharian, Rice said she “hoped Armenia would make progress toward enacting a package of constitutional reforms now before the parliament,” the State Department said.

The government of Armenia submitted revised constitutional reform amendments to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission in July, and the United States at that time welcomed the Venice Commission's agreement to those amendments.

The proposed reforms would improve separation of powers between branches of government and increase the independence and freedom of the media.

The U.S. State Department has a fact sheet available summarizing the U.S. position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

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