President Clinton held separate meetings November 19 with the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, and the President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, during the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Istanbul.
A senior administration official spoke with reporters afterwards and said the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was a main topic of discussion during both meetings.
The official said Clinton stressed to the two leaders that moving ahead with the peace process is important to promote their countries' economic development and security, and he expressed respect and admiration "that they had been willing to attack what has been an extremely difficult problem for both countries for a long period of time."
The official also said that both Kocharian and Aliyev agreed on the need for continued dialog on Nagorno-Karabakh, with the help of the international community, especially the OSCE's Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.
Following is the White House transcript of the briefing:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
November 19, 1999
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President just had two meetings, one with President Kocharian of Armenia; following that, President Aliyev of Azerbaijan.
The meeting with President Kocharian, President Clinton indicated his sympathy for Armenia and the Armenian people over the recent massacre which took place in the Armenian parliament; recognized the devastating impact that this could have on Armenia; expressed his admiration for President Kocharian for the way he handled the situation, his personal bravery in settling the conflict and the role that he played afterwards in reaffirming the importance of adhering to the Constitution, sticking to a democratic process and recognized that this is going to continue to be a challenge for him to build a consensus in any parliament, but that it is something that's critical and important for him to do and he has their support -- They -- talked about the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. President Clinton again indicated his respect and admiration for the work that President Kocharian and President Aliyev have done together and the fact that they had been willing to attack what has been an extremely difficult problem for both countries for a long period of time. He said that he recognized that President Kocharian is going to probably need some time to rebuild internally within Armenia in order to be able to continue the discussions on peace at the same time, it's been a particularly important process and that the United States and the international community stand ready to provide support.
QUESTION: Do you mean because of the massacre or rebuilding?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Exactly. Essentially, building his political consensus internally.
President Kocharian indicated that this was something extremely important for him and President Aliyev to be engaged in; that it was an issue where they needed to find a solution, think about a foundation that both countries can support. He stressed that the role of the international community is going to be absolutely key. He said that the role of the Minsk Group, which is the group within the OSCE where the United States, France and Russia are the co-chairs, that this Minsk Group is especially important and that he looks to the Minsk Group to work with the two Presidents in refining the ideas that they develop, on helping them formulate them over time, and that he looked to the international community to eventually be able to provide support for whatever kind of peace settlement might be achieved.
Finally, the only other thing I would stress in that first meeting was one of the key issues that's going to be facing Armenia in the coming few weeks is their economic program and their discussions with the IMF. President Kocharian indicated his intent on sticking to a reform program and getting back on track with the IMF. He said that they obviously had lost time because of the crisis in the parliament, but that Armenia has no choice but to stick to a reform program and get moving again back on the reform track.
Q: How long did that meeting last?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was about 40 minutes, 30 to 40 minutes; and about the same time with President Aliyev. In the meeting with President Aliyev, a great deal of the discussion focused on Nagorno-Karabakh. As with President Kocharian, President Clinton indicated his admiration and courage, respect for the courage that the two Presidents had had in directly addressing the peace issues in a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. He stressed that -- he recognized that the two of them had to he able to find a way of approaching these issues that was consistent with the needs in their country. But he also stressed that moving ahead with peace is something that's going to be important for both countries regionally and in promoting their own economic development and their own security.
President Aliyev indicated that again he and Kocharian were interested and committed to having a dialogue. They also looked to the international community to provide support. And just as President Kocharian had, he stressed the importance of the Minsk Group in reinforcing and supporting this whole process.
Part of the discussion also addressed energy development, Caspian energy development, looking back at the role that the United States had played in providing support to Azerbaijan, first in the development of its energy resources, then supporting the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline in order to provide alternatives for -- multiple pipeline alternatives for their export to international markets. President Aliyev again said that they've now signed the legal framework to be able to do this and now it's absolutely critical to keep moving and move forward with the implementation of the pipeline project.
Q: Did the two leaders meet at all? Did they meet themselves?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They spoke briefly on the margins of the Black Sea meeting here. They spoke briefly this morning on the margins of the presentations that were made. And they were both together at a ministerial organized by [U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright, [French Foreign Minister Hubert] Vedrine and [Russian Foreign Minister Igor] Ivanov yesterday.
And I would just -- one of the things that was interesting to me in looking at the proceedings, the two of them are sitting next to each other in many of these sessions, alphabetically; and when you look around there are many of the other leaders who are not talking to one another -- but they, in fact, actually engaging one another and going in some back and forth, which is indicative that there's been some willingness there to really engage in talk.
The diplomatic pay-off of the alphabet.
Q: Is there any hope for a settlement any time soon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we can say that they've clearly created a very positive atmosphere by the series of meetings they've had in the past year, principally starting from their meeting on the margins of the NATO summit, followed by two meetings in Switzerland, and a meeting recently on the border between the two countries. And what that's done is really give a new impetus to the hope of being able to move forward. This is radically different than where they were just a year ago. And this is a decades-long conflict, so they're truly moving forward.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State)