By Jean-Christophe Peuch and Emil Danielyan in Prague
International mediators on Monday confirmed reports that a crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Nagorno-Karabakh, originally slated for mid-June in Geneva, has been postponed indefinitely, but said they remain optimistic about chances of a peace settlement. A senior diplomat representing France in the OSCE's Minsk Group said the meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan has been put off to give the two leaders more time to agree all details of a forthcoming peace accord and to prepare their publics for compromise.
"We had thought of June as a possible time [for the summit] without setting a precise date, and we concluded during our visit to Baku and Yerevan that we should probably not push things too hard and should spend a little more time on reflection and work on details," Ambassador Philippe de Suremain, told RFE/RL in a phone interview. The decision was taken by the French, Russian and US co-chairs of the Group at the request of Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Heydar Aliev of Azerbaijan, he said.
"They themselves found it more appropriate and productive not to meet immediately, and prefer a substantial result to results which...would
perhaps not justify a meeting of such importance," Suremain explained. Aliev and Kocharian are "determined" to find a compromise solution to the conflict despite strong domestic opposition to concessions on Karabakh, the envoy added.
The Armenian foreign ministry announced over the weekend that the next OSCE-sponsored summit between the two conflicting countries will not take place as planned because "society is not yet ready to compromise." "But that does not mean that the [peace] process has stopped," a ministry spokeswoman told Western news agencies.
Suremain said the fact that the two presidents, who are thought to be
closer to a deal than ever before, are now asking for more time testifies to the seriousness of their intentions. "I think that it is rather a good sign. The more we move forward, the more we see the complexity of things. It's always the polishing that takes most of the time."
The chief French negotiator and his Russian and American counterparts toured Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh earlier this month to once again gauge the position of the conflicting parties. The mediators sounded more cautious about prospects for a Karabakh settlement at the end of their latest round of shuttle diplomacy, fuelling renewed pessimism about the success of their long-running peace effort.
Suremain, who was France's ambassador to Iran before his recent appointment as a Minsk Group co-chair, claimed that the mediating troika will not seek to "impose" a solution on the parties and has still to decide when the next Aliev-Kocharian encounter should take place. He said: "We will not take the risk of setting dates. As soon as things get better the effort will be re-launched."