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AZERBAIJANI PREMIER MEETS WITH RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS. Ilham Aliev, who is heading the Azerbaijani delegation to the 18-19 September CIS summit due to the illness of his father, President Heidar Aliev, met on 18 September in Yalta with Russian President Vladimir Putin for what described as "an exchange of diplomatic compliments." Putin said he considers Aliev's appointment opportune, and expressed the hope that President Aliev will make a swift recovery, Interfax reported. Putin also said he hopes the outcome of the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election will not negatively affect bilateral cooperation. Aliev for his part noted that since Putin's visit to Baku in January 2001, Azerbaijani-Russian relations have become closer, and that bilateral trade is expanding rapidly. Aliev also met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to discuss bilateral cooperation, especially in the energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. Aliev expressed his support for the longstanding proposal to create a CIS free-trade zone. LF

KYRGYZSTAN ANNOUNCES SUPPORT FOR COMMON ECONOMIC SPACE. Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told journalists on 18 September at a pre-summit meeting of CIS foreign ministers in Yalta that his country supports the establishment of the common economic space embracing Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, Interfax reported. Aitmatov added that Kyrgyzstan is prepared to join the structure. The final steps in setting up the association, which is intended to expand economic integration among its member states, are high on the agenda of the 18-19 September CIS Yalta summit (see Ukrainian item, "Newsline II"). Although creation of the common economic space was formally agreed upon by the four founding countries only in February 2003, the idea for such a structure was originally proposed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the early 1990s. BB

CIS SUMMIT OPENS IN YALTA... Leaders of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States gathered for a two-day summit in Yalta, Crimea, on 18 September, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. The Council of CIS Foreign Ministers and the Council of CIS Prime Ministers held one session each at Yalta's Livadiya Palace. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko told journalists that CIS foreign ministers agreed on a number of issues of "principal importance" in economic cooperation and the international fight against terrorism. In particular, Hryshchenko said they approved a package of draft documents on a CIS free-trade zone and economic cooperation. He did not elaborate. The session of the Council of CIS Prime Ministers was to consider 37 issues, but no details regarding the meeting were immediately available. JM

...AS FOUR CIS PRESIDENTS DISCUSS SINGLE ECONOMIC ZONE... Meanwhile, CIS presidents on 18 September were holding informal bilateral and multilateral meetings in Yalta. In particular, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- met to discuss the planned signing on 19 September of an accord on the creation of a single economic zone by those four countries. According to Interfax, the four leaders expressed their readiness to sign the accord, which caused controversy especially in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 September 2003). "We do not see any obstacles [to signing the accord]," Nazarbaev told journalists. Putin and Lukashenka reportedly were also in favor of signing the prepared accord. But Kuchma failed to say unambiguously whether he will sign the document without reservations. The Verkhovna Rada on 17 September recommended him to sign the accord on a CIS single economic zone provided that it does not contradict the Ukrainian Constitution, laws, or international commitments. JM

...AHEAD OF SIGNING. The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed an accord in Yalta on 19 September on the creation of a single economic zone by those four countries, Interfax and UNIAN reported. "This is a very serious step toward real integration in the 12-year history [of the CIS]," Nazarbaev commented. "I did not doubt for a moment while signing the document that I'm doing this in Ukraine's national interests," Kuchma told journalists. Details of the accord were to be released later in the day. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS PRESENT NEW CONSTITUTIONAL-REFORM PROPOSALS. Lawmakers from the pro-presidential majority in the Verkhovna Rada have prepared a new version of a recently submitted constitutional-reform bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003), Interfax reported on 18 September. According to the new version, the president should be elected by the current parliament in 2004, and not by a new parliament in 2006 as stipulated by the former draft bill. The new version also proposes that the next parliamentary elections be held under a fully proportional election law in 2007, not in 2006 as prescribed in the former bill. Pro-presidential majority leader Stepan Havrysh said the new proposals were communicated to President Kuchma, who has not rejected them. "The concept [of these proposals] is to prevent honest elections in this country," Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko commented. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said he is against extending the powers of the current Verkhovna Rada until 2007 but added that he has not yet decided whether to support the idea to elect the president by parliament as soon as 2004. JM

ESTONIA TO CANCEL FREE TRADE TREATIES WITH SIX COUNTRIES. The government approved and submitted to the parliament on 18 September a bill which would end the free-trade agreements with Ukraine, Turkey, and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, BNS reported. The agreements have to be terminated to fulfill the obligation set in the EU accession treaty to terminate all free trade agreements before joining the EU. Upon becoming an EU member, Estonia is obliged to join all EU foreign agreements and implement them even before the corresponding agreements are concluded. This is to ensure a constant legal relationship with the six countries and avoid problems in trade that may result from its disruption. SG

MOLDOVAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT. Meeting on the sidelines of the Yalta summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed problems linked to efforts to achieve a settlement of the Transdniester conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said: "We are trying to give a new breath to the Transdniester settlement," while Voronin noted that the negotiations with Transdniester on drafting the joint constitution are entering their final stage. Voronin also met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, discussing bilateral relations and ways to remove trade barriers between their countries. They agreed that their respective ministers of economy should further discuss the issue. MS