[04:20 pm] 17 May, 2006

Two State Department officials said Tuesday they were optimistic
about the possibility of a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and
Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabach. "The two
sides are closer to an agreement than they have been in the past,"
said Matthew Bryza, a State Department European affairs expert. He
spoke to a meeting of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which
was convened to examine humanitarian suffering in the region a dozen
years after the war over Nagorno-Karabach ended.

Bryza said the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments will have to show
political courage to bridge the final gaps. "We look at these next
couple of months as a real window of opportunity," he said.

A second State Department official, David Appleton, said one sign
of progress is that the Azeri government is asking the U.N. refugee
agency to draw up plans for the return of the displaced to their
homes once a peace agreement is signed.

Baroness Caroline Cox, the British humanitarian and member of the
House of Lords, who has visited Nagorno-Karabach 60 times, criticized
the United Nations for refusing to provide relief to the people
of the enclave under its policy of not doing work in "unrecognized
territories." She said the policy deprives the suffering people of
the region of much-needed aid.

"U.N. organizations working in Azerbaijan have been very vocal on
behalf of displaced Azeris but have been silent about Armenians
suffering at least as severely," the baroness said. "This asymmetry
is unjustifiable," she added. "The Karabach authorities have made
repeated requests for help to the U.N. for assistance, but these have
been unsuccessful."