Davos - Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright held separate meetings here January 29 with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to help advance the search for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.
A senior state department official said the United States believes progress is being made in the peace process. The OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France, has been supporting the process and the two top leaders began a direct dialogue one year ago at the urging of Secretary of State Albright.
"It is clear that there is movement forward... and that they are farther ahead on this issue than they have been before," the official said said.
The Secretary of State met for about one hour each with President Robert Kocharian of Armenia then with President Heydar Aliyez of Azerbaijan, according to the official. "The intent was to continue our engagement with them on efforts to resolve the problem in Nagorno-Karabakh."
The meetings took part on the margins of the 30th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, where between 2000 and 3000 business and political leaders gather each year to discuss and debate major international issues.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh began in 1988 when the territory, a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, voted to secede and join Armenia. The continuing conflict has seriously undermined economic and social development in the Caucasus region. Over a million people, according to some estimates, are still displaced from their homes.
"Resolution of this issue is not easy or simple," the U.S. official said. "This is a problem that is over a decade old. And the historic animosity between the two countries goes back much further than that."
Before meeting with the Secretary of State, the Azeri and Armenian presidents met one-on-one as part of a direct dialogue started by Secretary Albright at last April's NATO summit, the official said.
The United States believes the direct dialogue between the top leaders is yielding the basis for a definitive settlement, the offfical added. The discussions the Secretary of State held with them in Davos were designed to help advance that settlement."
The official would not disclose details of the proposed settlement, but said the OSCE Minsk Group has proposed several variants.
In their direct dialogue the two leaders have moved beyond the Minsk Group proposals and want to find a "more innovative and bold solution" the official said.
"The Minsk Group is now looking at the discussions that they have been having to craft a new Minsk Group proposal that would reflect and build upon these discussions," he said, noting that the group will meet again February 2 in Vienna.