Negotiations seeking to avoid possible renewed combat in the zone of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict have recently became more active. It is known that publication of the plan for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, published February 20 and February 22, first in Baku and then in Yerevan, served as a formal pretext for this process. The Minsk OSCE group including Washington, Moscow, and Paris as co-chairs, prepared the plan.

The plan makes provisions for granting more autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh within a so-called “common state.” In Baku many politicians and the entire opposition took this proposal as a sign that the country’s leadership was ready to give up Nagorno-Karabakh. The opposition began criticizing the President. Geidar Aliev spoke to the parliament and said that he was ready to defend the sovereignty of his state, declare a general mobilization, and then drive Armenian forces out of the occupied territories. Aliev repeated such statements later during his visit to Turkey March 12 – 14, announcing that the two brother states needed to cooperate to liberate the “occupied territories.” In Ankara Aliev stated, “Azerbaijan and Turkey need to respond to the insolence of Armenia together.”

After his visit to Turkey, Aliev confirmed in public his wish to establish Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan, and repeatedly expressed the hope that Ankara would help Azerbaijan resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Against this background it is clear why the negotiations between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents about Nagorno-Karabakh in Paris failed. The next round, scheduled for April 3 in the US, is also expected to fail.

But not everyone thinks this way. Washington is paying special attention to the upcoming summit between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan Geidar Aliev and Robert Kocharyan in Key West, Florida. The new US secretary of state Collin Powell has urged the warring parties to “put an end to the series of unsuccessful attempts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.” The resolute attitude of the new US Administration is understandable. American diplomats call finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict “a top priority” of the US.

However, to which extent are Washington’s ambitions supported by real deeds? What can the US offer that is new in order to satisfy both warring parties? If we analyze these issues we see that a consensus between Yerevan and Stepanakert could be based on an option not differing very much from the plans to establish a so-called “common state.” It is difficult to say what Baku would need to be satisfied. But it is clear that Azerbaijan is opposed to broad sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh, and will never agree solutions, according to which Stepanakert would be able to have its own national troops, currency, or other attributes of a state.

Thus, given the current level of preparation of documents for resolution of the conflict under the aegis of the Minsk OSCE group, a breakthrough is unlikely to take place in the Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. However, the US is convinced it will succeed, evidently because it has a plan of its own that could satisfy both parties and bring about reconciliation.

It is quite possible that this plan includes strong material incentives for Yerevan and Baku to meet each other halfway. Russian and Turkish mass media report that international peacekeeping forces will be deployed on the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh until the conflict is resolved, and special Armenia-Lachin-Nagorno-Karabakh, and Nakhichevan-Megri-Azerbaijan corridors will be arranged.

At this point reconciliation should be based on joint economic projects, actively benefiting and involving the warring parties.

It is possible that these could be hydrocarbon transportation projects, for transporting oil and gas from the Caspian basin to Turkey via Armenia. This would bring big investments to the economies of both countries in exchange for cessation of the conflict and their willingness to sign a peace treaty.

Time will show how viable and realistic such scenarios are. At any rate, it is known that such plans have already been tried without success, under the presidency of Ter-Petrosyan in Armenia. It is difficult to imagine that things will turn out differently this time.

Meanwhile, we can say that a possible failure of negotiations between Yerevan and Baku would make Washington attempt more actively to act as an intermediary in the conflict’s resolving. This activity has a simple explanation. A world energy crisis is coming, and the new US Administration needs new oil and gas sources. (According to experts, by 2020 oil and gas imports by the US and West European countries may fall 70-90%, and oil prices may soar 100-200%) Washington has frequently said that the Caspian Basin could become such a source.

Thus, the interest of the US in the region is primarily economic. The Predicted oil reserves of the Caspian Basin total about 25 billion tons. This is a lot, almost one-fourth of the world’s reserves. Of course, for Washington this is a “tasty morsel,” and it has already invested big money in it. It is known that the value of contracts for oil and gas development in the Caspian basin already exceeds $30 billion. The US accounts for 50% of these contracts.

However, to invest is one thing, and to deliver produced energy resources to where it is needed is another. The US is interested in solving the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh mainly in order to secure the safety of oil and gas transportation from the Caspian Basin to European terminals. George W. Bush and his administration are obviously inclined to act decisively. There is no doubt that in the near future we will witness active attempts by the US to strengthen its position in the Transcaucasia.

Resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is the most appropriate pretext. If the steps associated with economic expansion do not help, the US could resort to other scenarios, including the use of force. A war in Nagorno-Karabakh could serve as a good pretext for intervention by international peacekeeping contingents, as already happened in the Persian Gulf during protection of oil fields of Kuwait, and in Yugoslavia, when NATO forces came to Kosovo to protect the Albanian population. Something similar could happen in the zone of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict if Baku starts a war.

The international community would not allow a long war to take place, although the cruel character of combat operations, including mass killings, and seizure of territory can be guaranteed. In these circumstances the actions of international peacekeepers could be aimed not only at provision of security for population, but also at protecting currently operating and future pipelines which are needed in the near future, according to American plans, in order to connect Caspian oil with refineries in Europe and US.