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Great Hopes, Expectations Placed on Western Mediation in the Caucasus

(Washington, DC--Aril 22, 2003) "Enormous hopes are pinned on Western intervention and mediation in [the region]," according to journalist and author Tom De Waal, who spoke at an RFE/RL briefing last week. He also said these hopes are inflated at times to a level where he must take time "convincing Azeris and Armenians that President Bush does not pour over daily briefings of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during breakfast."

De Waal, the Caucasus editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London, is the author of a new book, "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War" (2003, NYU Press). He is also the co-author, with Carlotta Gall, of "Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus" (1998, NYU Press).

De Waal said that Governments in the Caucasus have an "exaggerated sense of self importance" and assume a greater degree of Western policy engagement than what actually exists. According to De Waal, three issues require the attention of Western governments. The Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is at an impasse and requires outside intervention to break the mutual isolation and state-sponsored propaganda of the two countries. In Chechnya, a younger generation of fighters might be willing to take its war to Russia and to Western targets within Russia. Finally, a Russian-proposed peace agreement for the region will fail if Russian peacekeeping forces on the ground do not allow the construction of a railroad through Georgia linking Russia to Armenia.

The waiver of Section 907 of the U.S. Freedom Support Act, which in 1992 imposed sanctions on Azerbaijan due to that country's blockade of Armenia, is a "promising development" for the Caucasus, De Waal said. Broader regional strategy is still needed, according to De Waal, who added that engagement by Great Britain and more effective diplomacy by the 13-member OSCE "Minsk Group" of countries would be helpful.

De Waal remains "cautiously optimistic" about Russia's involvement in the region citing the Russian military's diminishing influence and Putin's improving relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan. He added that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and other economic opportunities will likely result in Russia becoming more interested in peaceful development and less engaged in manipulative tactics.

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