By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert and Emil Danielyan
French, Russian and US negotiators co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group warned on Wednesday Azerbaijan against attempting to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh by force as they crossed the line of contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces after talks in Stepanakert. The mediators, touring the region in a new round of shuttle diplomacy, discussed their new peace initiatives with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic the previous night.
Official Yerevan, meanwhile, said further progress in the peace process hinges on the Azerbaijani government’s support for the main terms of resolving the conflict, agreed by the parties earlier this year.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, US Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh and Ambassador Philippe de Suremain of France met with Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian upon their arrival in Stepanakert on a helicopter flight from Yerevan. Ghukasian told the envoys that the their visit will “spur” the peace process. His press office quoted Trubnikov as saying that a future peace deal “must be acceptable to all parties and the Karabakh people in the first place.”
Cavanaugh (left), Trubnikov (center) and de Suremain after talks in Yerevan on Tuesday
The co-chairs on Thursday travelled to the nearby town of Shusha on a sight-seeing tour before heading for a section of the frontline southeast of the disputed region. Accompanied by a small group of journalists, they then made a symbolic journey on foot across the no man's land in the Fizuli district in Azerbaijan proper, which borders on Iran and is partly controlled by Karabakh Armenian forces.
According to Agence France Presse, just as they were about to cross the fortified frontline the mediators chided Baku for threatening military action to take back Karabakh and seven Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani districts. "It bothers us that some people in Baku talk about fighting," said Cavanaugh.
"We have truly seen today the price of war but the price is higher because today people are suffering. We understand that the refugees want to go home. We are here to work for peace."
In a communiqué to coincide with the crossing of the border, the Minsk Group said: "This 'no peace no war' situation is dangerously fragile. We are increasingly concerned that bellicose rhetoric, particularly noted in recent weeks, only exacerbates tensions and increases the risk of renewed conflict. Probably not far from the very spot where we stand today."
The group added that calls for a military solution are "irresponsible and we encourage all politicians to avoid any actions or statements that could aggravate the situation and harm the delicate peace process."
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, who will receive the mediators on Thursday has repeatedly said in recent months that Baku will resort to military action if the peace talks fail. In a speech late last month, he warned that the Azerbaijani army, which suffered a humiliating defeat seven years ago, is now prepared for renewed fighting. The threats have been brushed aside by Armenian and Karabakh leaders.
In Yerevan, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the talks in the Azerbaijani capital will be crucial for the success of the negotiating process. “Everything depends on the results of the Baku meetings. We are satisfied with the results of our meetings with the co-chairs. We find positive the fact that they [the mediators] are trying to stay within the framework of the Paris principles,” Oskanian told reporters, referring to confidential agreements reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in the French capital last March.
The parties are thought to have built upon the so-called “Paris principles” during four-day peace talks in Florida in April. Armenian officials claim that Aliev later backtracked on the agreements by demanding more concessions from the Armenian side.
“At this point we can only hope that Azerbaijan will agree to putting the process back on the Paris track, something which would substantially increase chances of a settlement,” Oskanian said.
The Azerbaijani leadership, however, has blamed the Armenians for the postponement of the next round of negotiations in Geneva last month.