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Rice Urges Political Will to Settle Nagorno-Karabakh Dispute

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday called on the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments to summon up the political will to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Rice said the long-running territorial dispute is holding back both countries. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

In comments reflecting U.S. frustration over the continued impasse, Rice says the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is adversely affecting the interests of both Armenia and Azerbaijan and could be resolved quickly, with a little bit of political will by the two principals.

Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, declared independence in 1988, triggering a conflict between the two countries that claimed some 35,000 lives.

The parties have generally observed a cease-fire agreement brokered in 1994 by the Minsk Group, chaired by the United States, Russia and France, but truce violations and cross-border sniping continue, including an outbreak of fighting last month.

Asked about the conflict in an appearance before the American-Turkish Council in Washington, Rice said Minsk Group diplomats have been close to getting an agreement on several occasions, and that it is time for the parties to make the hard choices needed to finally end the conflict:

"It needs to be done. I have made the case to both the Armenian government and the Azeri government that they are falling behind the rest of the region because they will not resolve this conflict between them. And frankly there is plenty of, if you wish to use the word, blame to go around on both sides. This could be done if there is political will, and it ought to. It ought to be done," he said.

In conjunction with the Rice remarks, the State Department issued a fact sheet Tuesday reiterating that the United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country, supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and holds that the future status of the region is to be settled through negotiations.

It reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the Minsk process and said cooperation among the three co-chairs is excellent.

In her remarks to the Turkish-American group, Rice also said there is new momentum building toward a resolution of the Cyprus dispute, four years after the collapse of the settlement effort of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Rice noted that Turkey had supported the Annan plan, which was voted down by Greek-Cypriots in a referendum, and that the United States had later taken steps to ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots, whose self-proclaimed state is recognized only by Turkey.

The Secretary called it a more hopeful time for the two Cypriot communities, who have resumed talks for the first time in two years and opened a new crossing in Nicosia.

But as in Nagorno-Karabakh, Rice said the Cyprus parties will have to make difficult choices and overcome political resistance if they are to take advantage of what she termed a different spirit on the island.