Addressing a press conference in Baku on 18 July, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov, who is President Ilham Aliyev's special envoy for the Karabakh peace talks, said that "in present conditions we are closer to peace than ever before," day.az reported. Echoing comments by Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2005), Azimov enumerated aspects of the conflict currently under discussion, including the withdrawal of Armenian forces from districts of Azerbaijan adjacent to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the repatriation of displaced persons, economic rehabilitation of the conflict zone, and the deployment of a peacekeeping force, Interfax reported. At the same time, Azimov characterized as either a "provocation" or a "trial balloon" Armenian statements last week that a peace settlement could make provision for a future referendum on the status of Karabakh vis-a-vis Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 14 July 2005). He said Mammadyarov will meet in Moscow on 23 August with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian to prepare for talks on the Karabakh conflict three days later in Kazan between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Aliyev. LF
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