Key West: The lost chance

On March 17, 2001, OSCE Minsk Group American Co-chair Carey Cavanaugh did not rule out that the upcoming meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on April 3 in Florida could become a “decisive” one. At the same time, the diplomat refrained from forecasting the results of the meeting between Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev. “It would be great if the meeting turned out to be the last one. However, we should take into account the fact that it is really difficult to reach peace,” Cavanaugh said.

How the preparations for the meeting in Key-West proceeded

A few days later, on March 20 and 21, 2001, the meetings of Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian and U.S. President’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took place in Washington.



On March 21, U.S. Department of State Spokesman Richard Boucher said that the meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents in Key West would last 4 days. He noted then that the meeting in Key West would become the continuation of the direct dialogue between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, as well as the continuation of the “work, carried out by them recently with the participation of French President Jacques Chirac.”

The same day, while having a meeting with students of University of Economics in Yerevan, Robert Kocharian stated that the resource of his meetings with the Azerbaijani president in “one-to-one” format was almost exhausted. According to him, the sides had already clarified each other’s positions as to disputable issues, and the “baton” of continuing the negotiations was to be passed to OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

Armenian president stated that at the meeting with Heydar Aliyev in Florida he would insist upon observing 3 main principles of Karabakh conflict settlement:

1. Legal equality of the sides of the conflict:
2. Ruling out the possibility of enclave existence of Nagorno-Karabakh;
3. International security guarantees for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At a special briefing in Washington on April 2, on the eve of the launch of negotiations, an unannounced “senior representative of the Department of State” was making a speech. It was obvious that it was Minsk Group American Co-chair Carey Cavanaugh.

The diplomat said that the upcoming meeting in Key West was to strongly differ both from the previous direct meetings between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, and from their recent negotiations with the participation of French President Jacques Chirac. He stated that in Florida, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs would carry out continuous negotiations both together with the two presidents and with each of them individually.

The diplomat also stressed that in case of significant progress at the meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Florida, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs were ready to launch new consultations with international financial institutions in order to establish a special mission on economic rehabilitation of the region. He reminded that in May 2000 a meeting had taken place in Geneva with participation of representatives of international financial institutions at the initiative of the mediators, where they had discussed the opportunities of setting up such a mission.

The American diplomat also said that the triple co-chairmanship of OSCE Minsk Group, despite the initial concerns, had turned out to be quite effective. “By the example of the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, we know how complex it is to make progress in negotiations. But in case of Nagorno-Karabakh, working together with Russia and France, we see the chance of progress,” American diplomat said.


Key West is an island in the Straits of Florida on the North American continent. The island is about 6.4 km long and 3.2 km wide.

Several U.S. presidents visited Key West. Harry Truman visited for 175 days on 11 visits during his presidency and visited several times after he left office.



Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed in Key West following a heart attack. In November 1962, John F. Kennedy visited Key West a month after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Numerous artists and writers have passed through Key West, but the two most associated with the island are Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Ernest Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms while living in Key West.
“Little White House” in Key West was the winter White House for President Harry Truman.
In 1991, the house opened as a state historic site and museum.

In April, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell opened a week of peace talks between presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.



In January 2005, former President Bill Clinton and his spouse, then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, spent a weekend relaxing at the house.

Day one: April 4, 2001

The meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev in Key West began with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.



At the beginning of the meeting, Heydar Aliyev read out a long text, reiterating Azerbaijan’s usual accusations against Armenia. Particularly, he described Armenia as an “aggressor and organizer of separatism in Nagorno Karabakh.” The Azeri president stated also that throughout the settlement Armenia’s position was non-constructive. Heydar Aliyev also expressed displeasure with the fact that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs took a “passive and wait-and-see policy.”



In response, Armenian President Robert Kocharian said: “I’ve had such a long trip to Florida not to engage in propaganda here or play the role of an instructor for the mediators. I’ve come here to conduct constructive work and search solutions.”

In April 2011, Armenia’s former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said in an interview with Mediamax:

“The meeting began very badly. When the first day the presidents outlined their positions in the presence of Colin Powell, Aliyev, perhaps, had delivered the toughest speech over the whole period of negotiations. We all looked at one another thinking why did we come here? But everything changed the next day. It must have been his style: Aliyev used to say something in public and quite another thing behind the scenes.”



U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he was not surprised by Heydar Aliyev’s tough statement.

“I was waiting for both sides to outline their positions. President Aliyev described his approaches very clearly and during a long period of time. President Kocharian was more straightforward,” he noted.

Powell stated that he deemed it untimely to speak about the organization of a meeting of Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev with U.S. President George W. Bush.



“Negotiations will be very, very hard. President Bush will follow them very closely this week, and I think if success is obtained at a definite moment in the future the President of the United States will express desire to meet Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders. I don’t know whether it will happen this week or sometime in the future,” Colin Powell said then.



British expert Thomas de Waal wrote:

“If Key West was Karabakh’s missed “Dayton moment,” the differences are instructive. To make the Dayton peace for Bosnia work, Richard Holbrooke had many instruments at his disposal which the Karabakh mediators do not.”

Commenting on this opinion at the request of Mediamax in April 2011, American mediator Carey Cavanaugh said:

“At Dayton the parties came under intense pressure from the Contact Group to conclude an agreement. In the Minsk Group, it was always understood that a lasting Nagorno-Karabakh settlement could only be achieved if it was embraced by, not imposed upon the parties to the conflict. Furthermore, one of the key instruments at Ambassador Holbrooke’s disposal was the threat of renewed use of force by NATO. This too is an instrument that is not appropriate for the Minsk Group process. Quite the opposite, there is widespread belief that further military action in the region would make achieving any lasting solution more difficult.

Holbrooke believed that the selection of Dayton as the site for peace talks had contributed greatly to his negotiation effort.



When I shared with him our plans for Key West he thought it was a perfect venue - a presidential setting (Truman’s ‘Little White House’), where talks could be effectively supported and the two leaders could meet comfortably, away from the influences of Washington and the press, for as long as necessary.”

Day two: April 5, 2001

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, who headed the Russian delegation at NK peace talks in Key West, said on April 5, 2001 that Russia, USA and France “work nip and tuck” trying to facilitate Karabakh conflict settlement but the “key to conflict resolution is in the hands of Azerbaijan and Armenia.”



According to Trubnikov, Russia did not have a “key” to the resolution of the dispute on Nagorno Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia and “will be completely satisfied by the solution acceptable for both of the sides.”

Highlighting the importance of seeking a consensus by the participants of the talks, Vyacheslav Trubnikov expressed the hope that the positive atmosphere, which appeared during Key West talks, “might lead to definite positive results.”



The U.S. Co-chair Carey Cavanaugh described as “useful and promising” the mediators’ meetings with Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. The OSCE French Co-chair Jean-Jacque Gaillarde, for his part, noted that “the talks were held in a very good atmosphere.”


The Key West meeting would have never been held without the active work of the OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Co-chair Carey Cavanaugh and his Russian and French colleagues - Nikolay Gribkov and Jean-Jacque Gaillarde.

However, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov played the role of the “first violin” in the Russian delegation in Key West. As for France, immediately after Key West, Jean-Jacque Gaillarde was replaced by Philippe de Suremain, who in early April still occupied the position of the Ambassador of France to Iran but was already present at the talks in Florida.

Vyacheslav Trubnikov

Born in 1944, Vyacheslav Trubnikov came to Russian Foreign Ministry from Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia and USSR KGB.

From 1967, Trubnikov worked in the KGB of USSR, served in the First Chief Directorate of KGB (foreign intelligence). He graduated from USSR KGB High School. In 1971-1977 he served abroad in India and Bangladesh, was engaged in intelligence activities under the cover of correspondent of “Novosti” Agency. In 1977-1984 worked in the Central Office of KGB’s First Chief Directorate.

In 1984-1990 he was on his second long business assignment abroad, worked as the Head of USSR KGB’s Intelligence Service in India and Bangladesh.

In 1990-1992 he was the Chief of the Department of South-East Asia at the First Chief Directorate of KGB USSR as Major-General.

From January 1992-1996 he was First Deputy Director of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service as Lieutenant-General, since 1993- Colonel-General.



In 1996-2000 he has the Director of Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation.

By the decree of Russian President Boris Yeltsin of 22 January 1998, Vyacheslav Trubnikov was conferred the military rank of Army General. He became the first Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service throughout the history of USSR and Russian Federation to be conferred such a rank. In 1999, upon Russian President’s another decree Trubnikov was conferred the rank of Hero of the Russian Federation.

In 2000-2004, he was Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister for CIS. From 2004 to 2009 he was the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to India.

Vyacheslav Trubnikov passed away in 2022, aged 78.

Carey Cavanaugh

Carey Cavanaugh was born in 1955. For twenty-two years he served as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, worked at U.S. embassies in Berlin, Moscow, Tbilisi, Rome and Bern.

Under the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Cavanaugh helped advance peace efforts involving Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Turkey.

During his service as Director of Southern European Affairs and Acting Special Cyprus Coordinator, he received the Clement Dunn Award for Excellence for defusing the crisis that arose when Cyprus purchased a Russian S-300 (missile) system.



Carey Cavanaugh joined the Patterson School in 2006, where he is also professor of diplomacy and conflict resolution.

It is believed that the failure in Key West was the cause Carey Cavanaugh left the diplomatic service.

Day three: April 6, 2001

Co-chairs informed ITAR-TASS that the assumptions that the plan of peaceful settlement was almost ready and that it allegedly contained information on exchange of particular territories among Azerbaijan and Armenia did not correspond to reality.



Conclusions on a ready plan of peaceful settlement were made by some media outlets after publication of photos, which portrayed Armenian President Robert Kocharian and OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Co-chair Carey Cavanaugh, bent over the map of Transcaucasia. According to diplomats, “the discords of sides concerning the status of Nagorno-Karabakh are still big.”

Day four: April 7, 2001

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said in Key West that “despite some complications, overall, things are moving forward.”

Oskanian said that if the Azerbaijani side adhered to such assessments, “we will have what to celebrate before leaving Key West.”



“If we agree on principles, we can eventually reflect it on paper,” the minister said.

Speaking to RFE/RL, Oskanian said separate sessions between international mediators and Armenian President Robert Kocharian were proceeding “successfully”. He noted that the Armenian side was not informed about the results of the talks between the mediators and Heydar Aliyev. Oskanian also stated that “We and the co-chairs have indeed worked very seriously on maps.”

In May 2001, commenting on the results of negotiations in Key West, Vartan Oskanian said that the corridors, which would link Armenia with Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan, cannot be symmetric given various geographic conditions. “As for who is going to control Nakhichevan-Azerbaijan corridor, various proposals can be discussed,” Oskanian went on adding that “the Armenian side will certainly prefer that Armenian forces controlled the corridor passing through the Armenian territory.”

10 years later, in April 2011, Oskanyan said in an interview with Mediamax:

“The Americans have an expression “too good to be true.” At that time, it was spoken about including Nagorno Karabakh with part of Lachin under the sovereignty of Armenia, i.e. Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh should have become a united state. As I can judge today, from Azerbaijan’s point of view it was not an equal exchange: Azerbaijan should have only got the right for a regular communication with Nakhichevan through the territory of Armenia. It was the pivot of the document.



The fact that Nagorno Karabakh would become part of Armenia was already inspiring. But, on the other hand, there were bothering elements regarding communication with Nakhichevan. The proposal was unacceptable for us the way it appeared on the negotiating table. And it is hard to say today whether we would have managed to get what we indeed wanted from it. I can definitely say that there was nothing about transferring even an inch of Armenian territory to Azerbaijan. It was absolutely excluded. Only establishment of communication with Nakhichevan was discussed. But the proposal, even the way it was, was unacceptable for the Armenian side and needed to be further negotiated on,” he continued.

Fishing, jet ski and communique

Vahe Gabrielyan, press secretary for Robert Kocharian said to Daily Citizen paper, published in Florida, that Robert Kocharian caught three big fish in Key West, one of which was 40 pounds. He also noted that Robert Kocharian was jet skiing.



The joint communique of the Minsk Group adopted in Key West said that they were preparing “a new comprehensive proposal” on peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

“Serious and intense discussions were held over four days of work. The presidents demonstrated goodwill and a strong commitment to resolve this conflict on the basis of mutual compromise,” the communique said.

Despite the optimistic tone of this paper, it was clear that the Key West meeting was not a breakthrough. On April 9, U.S. President George W. Bush met separately in Washington with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, but these meetings were not a record of success, but an attempt to save the face of American diplomacy.

After Key West

After Bush’s meeting with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Carey Cavanaugh stated that the next round of Karabakh peace talks with the participation of Kocharian and Aliyev would be held in Geneva in June 2001.

On May 5, OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Co-chair Carey Cavanaugh paid an unexpected visit to Baku. Several days later the U.S. official said in the interview with Mediamax that he went to Baku upon Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev’s personal request. “President Aliyev’s call caught me in Germany. The president asked me to arrive in Baku to discuss some issues,” Carey Cavanaugh said.



On May 11, Carey Cavanaugh met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian in New York. Addressing a business forum “Investments in Armenia,” Carey Cavanaugh expressed confidence that the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan could reach peace agreement which would satisfy both of them. However, Cavanaugh said, the ability of Aliyev and Kocharian to persuade their nations of the need to make compromises would be a peculiar test of their political abilities. “People in Armenia and Azerbaijan realize the necessity of peace. But they can’t fully imagine how to make compromises,” the U.S. official stated.

On May 19, OSCE Minsk Group Russian, U.S. and French Co-chairs visited the region. During the visit it was announced that the meeting in Geneva due on June 2011, was postponed for an indefinite period of time.

In July OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs visited the region again and adopted a communique, urging the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “understand the necessity of serious compromises in order to provide political settlement.” Vyacheslav Trubnikov stated in Yerevan that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs did not offer the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan “anything radically new.” “We worked on a scheme that was discussed by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Paris and Key West. We had more detailed proposals regarding certain elements of the settlement scheme, which the two presidents already know. All the novelty lies in the details. We continue to adhere to the opinion that we do not need to invent new schemes,” the Russian diplomat emphasized.

In December, Foreign Minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Naira Melkumyan said in the interview with Mediamax that “unfortunately after Key West the Azeri president rejected the agreements reached during previous meetings.”

She noted that “the meeting should have been held in Geneva in June, and the sides were waiting for a serious breakthrough and, to some extent, publication of principles the presidents had been talking about.” When asked about the reasons why the Azeri leadership denied Paris and Key West agreements, Naira Melkumyan said:

“I think the reason why Aliyev was forced to reject his promises given in Key West was the internal situation in Azerbaijan. Aliyev reiterated his readiness to conduct negotiations the way it was negotiated not only with President Kocharian but also with the presidents of three big and powerful states - Chirac, Putin and Bush. He hardly knew that he would decline the agreements. I think we can say for sure that he was seriously pressured by his closest milieu, which, given subjective factors, was unable to realize the agreements Aliyev would sign in case the responsibility for their realization lies on it. It’s obvious that President Aliyev, taking into account his desire to pass this post on to his son, had to control his milieu.”

In March 2002, U.S. Co-chair Rudolph Perrina said at the meeting with Azerbaijani president in Baku: “Time has come to resolve the Karabakh problem.” His Russian counterpart, Russian First Deputy FM Vyacheslav Trubnikov stated that the mediators did not have new “revolutionary proposals.” Turning to the Azeri leader, Trubnikov asked “not to perceive the co-chairs’ viewpoint on the path of settlement as pressure.” At the same time, the Russian official stressed that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs would not like to return from the region empty-handed.”

Addressing the session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Prague in November, Robert Kocharian said: “If Azerbaijan accepted the proposed settlement plan, today the peace agreement would have already been partially realized.”

In December 2003 the first meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev was held in Geneva. Commenting on the results of the meeting, Vyacheslav Trubnikov actually admitted that Key West’s “heritage” is no longer relevant. “We have to elaborate a new common basis for negotiations,” he stated. On January 20, Ilham Aliyev said that OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs should present new proposals for the Karabakh conflict settlement and that the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group in last several years was “ineffective,” stressing that the Azeri society “awaits much from the mediators.”

The “successor’s” factor

There are many facts confirming that the position of Ilham Aliyev, whom Aliyev Sr. was preparing as a successor, “buried” Key West.

In January 2003, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian openly said that Heydar Aliyev’s inner circle, including his son Ilham, were the reason why the Azerbaijani leader later abandoned the Key West agreements.

“Heydar Aliyev was already ill and was afraid that he would not have enough time to realize the agreements reached,” Vartan Oskanian said.



In April 2011, in an interview with Mediamax, Carey Cavanaugh said: “One major obstacle was the fact that neither side had done the necessary work to prepare their populations for serious compromise. In private, both presidents had come to this conclusion and were prepared to act. In public, however, they had conveyed no sign of this fact and, more often than not, continued to declare that all their demands must be met. In Azerbaijan, this was doubly difficult because Aliyev had restricted knowledge of the proposed solution to a very small circle, one that even excluded many of his key advisors. This demanded even greater political courage to act and accept a solution that was certain to elicit a strong public reaction.”

Ten years after Key West negotiations, Vartan Oskanian told Mediamax:

“It became clear that Aliyev would hardly be able to realize the agreements. Returning from Florida, we came to that conclusion. I think it was the reason why Robert Kocharian did not feel the need to unveil the document, work with political forces and with the people. Moreover, no final agreement was reached on all points of the document. Only the proposal, which contained points unacceptable for us, lied on the negotiating table. Judging from these reasons it was senseless for us to start working with political forces. We, first of all, failed to reach final agreement and, secondly, we felt that Aliyev was unable to implement the agreement.”



“Looking back at Key West, I can say that it became a definite “deviation” from the previous logic of the negotiation process. By saying a deviation I mean that an attempt was made to give a final resolution to the issue, to end everything at once without leaving anything for the future. This document should have fully and finally resolved the problem. That logic, I think, was born as a result of Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev’s contacts. I suppose that kind of resolution could be Heydar Aliyev’s idea, taking into account his age and his desire to pass the power on to his son. Perhaps, the Azeri president wanted to remove the future heavy burden from his son’s shoulders, which was a natural wish for a man who believed himself to be the father of not only his own son but of the whole country,” Vartan Oskanian noted.

Ara Tadevosyan, Aram Araratyan


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