During NATO’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia met in the Motel Splendide pomp of the upper floors of the American Department of State with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and Norway (which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE).

The meeting concerned ways to resolve the ethnic-territorial issues of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians and occupied by Armenian forces, and Abkhazia, an ethnically distinct and autonomy-minded region of Georgia. Russia’s absence made the meeting unprecedented.

The NATO ministers recommended to the presidents a set of principles for settlement of these conflicts: territorial integrity of states, the refugees’ right to return, “maximum autonomy” for Karabakh and Abkhazia, and international security guarantees to protect negotiated results. (The relevance of these principles to Kosovo is duly noted.) Procedurally, the NATO ministers emphasized direct negotiations between the parties with international assistance as required. Just by taking place, the meeting diminished Russia’s role in mediation of these disputes.

Presidents Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia also met privately in the State Department for two hours. The presidents made no statement to the press but did announce agreement to supplement OSCE mediation with further face-to-face meetings.