Leaders from across the Caucasus and Central Asia are returning home after addressing a wide variety of security and cooperation issues during the UN Millennium Summit.
In perhaps the most prominent bilateral meeting involving regional leaders during the September 6-8 UN summit, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliyev renewed discussions on a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both leaders expressed their commitment to resolve the conflict through negotiations. However, neither reported any breakthroughs. Kocharian termed the meeting important.
"We are ready to maintain direct contacts with Azerbaijan in order to search for compromises, although we think that direct negotiation between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh would be more productive," Kocharian said in his speech to the General Assembly. "At the same time, we are convinced that it is already possible at this stage to advance economic co-operation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which will certainly facilitate and expedite the establishment of a lasting peace."
Meanwhile, Aliyev suggested that a Karabakh settlement might prove elusive until Russian military forces are withdrawn from the Caucasus region. "Without settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and other conflicts, without the removal of factors of external pressure including the foreign military presence, it is impossible to achieve peace and security in the region," Aliyev said in his speech to the General Assembly. "Pressure from those involved in the struggle for spheres of influence do not give young and weak democracies an opportunity to pursue freely the policy of strengthening and developing their statehood."
Central Asian leaders including the presidents of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan called for greater UN efforts to promote stability in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Regional leaders, especially Uzbek President Islam Karimov, have identified Afghanistan as a center of operations for Islamic insurgents now active in Central Asia.
"The continuing war in Afghanistan stands as a threat to security of not only the states of Central Asia, but also that of the whole world," Karimov said in his UN address. "We should do our utmost in order to secure the earliest peaceful settlement to the Afghan problem.
In addition, several regional leaders took advantage of the UN gathering to forge closer cooperation. On September 6, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Ukraine met to formalize a regional cooperation group known as GUUAM. The five leaders signed an agreement to hold formal annual summit meetings, and agreed to create a free trade zone in the region. The agreement also calls for foreign ministers from GUUAM countries to meet twice a year to set the agendas for heads of state.
"Things have truly changed. We have grown and it is now time to form something concrete," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a news conference. "The entire world, and Europe in particular, is moving towards integration. We need to create a real free trade zone. What has emerged from the CIS is no more than talk."
In other summit related developments:
President Imomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on September 5 to discuss what the Annan's spokesman called the "steadily improving situation in Tajikistan and the role that the UN is playing in the peace-building process in that country." Rakhmonov thanked the Secretary General for his support of the UN peacekeeping mission in Tajikistan that ended in May. The two men also discussed regional issues, including the situation in Afghanistan.
In his speech to the summit's plenary session on September 7, Rakhmonov cited the Russian-American working group on Afghanistan that met in Washington in August as a promising way to find a solution to the Afghan conflict. "The experience gained and the lessons drawn from the resolution of the inter-Tajik conflict indicate that the UN will be able to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan only with the active support of the world's leading powers, first and foremost, Russia and the United States, and of course with the Afghan parties to the conflict demonstrating good will."
Before his speech that day, Rakhmonov signed the two UN treaties the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Convention on Migrant Workers.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev held bilateral meetings on September 7 with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In his meeting with Annan, the two men discussed the impact of the fighting in Afghanistan and of drug trafficking in the region. Nazarbayev also thanked the Secretary General for his support for the creation of a Central Asian peacekeeping battalion that will eventually participate in UN peacekeeping missions.
Nazarbayev also signed two UN treaties while in New York, the Optional Protocol to the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
In addition, Azerbaijani President Aliyev signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia on September 7 held talks with a representative of the separatist Abkhazia region. The discussion explored a constitutional solution to the question of Abkhazia's status within Georgia's state framework. A Georgian official declined to reveal details.
Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.