By Emil Danielyan
French President Jacques Chirac has expressed hope that this year will see the long-awaited resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on agreements reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in Paris early last year, official sources in Yerevan said Saturday.
According to President Robert Kocharian’s office, Chirac said in a message to his Armenian counterpart that he hopes the conflicting parties will find a “final solution” to the dispute “in accordance with principles agreed during the Paris meetings.”
Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev met twice in the French capital before flying to the Florida island of Key West last April for peace talks sponsored by the French, Russian and US co-chairs the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The mediators said at the end of the four-day session that Kocharian and Aliev are closer to signing a peace deal than ever before. But their upbeat expectations failed to materialize, with either party blaming the other for the subsequent impasse.
Officials in Armenia and Karabakh insist that the two presidents had agreed the main principles of a Karabakh settlement at the Paris meetings, personally mediated by Chirac. Yerevan and Stepanakert say the so-called “Paris principles” are largely in line with their position on the issue.
The Azerbaijani leadership, however, has repeatedly denied the existence of such principles. Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said on July 16 that they are “yet another Armenian myth created with the aim of avoiding responsibility for the breakdown of talks.”
However, “The Washington Post” reported the day before that Aliev and Kocharian “agreed to about 80 percent of an armistice,” including the key issue of Karabakh’s status, at Paris and Key West.
Official Baku has at the same time complained that the Minsk Group proposals favor the Armenian side. Aliev was quoted by news agencies as saying on August 8 that the OSCE “does not care” about his country’s territorial integrity. His top foreign policy aide, Novruz Mamedov, told The Associated Press in November that the “refined” version of those proposals is also unacceptable to Azerbaijan.
Chirac was also quoted by Kocharian’s press office as pledging France’s continued involvement in the Karabakh peace process. “Rest assured in our continued engagement and determination to reinforce regional stability, which is the sole guarantee of the region’s prosperity,” he said.
Observers believe that the mediating troika will make another push for the conflict’s settlement this year, mindful of presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2003. The co-chairs are expected to tour the region in late February or early March.
Chirac’s letter was timed to coincide with the arrival in Yerevan of France’s new ambassador to Armenia. Henri Cuny, who was a diplomatic adviser to the chief of the French army staff, presented his credentials to Kocharian on Friday. Kocharian told the envoy that he attaches “particular importance” to his country’s relations with France.
Chirac noted in his “friendly message” that he is satisfied with the development of French-Armenian ties last year and hopes for new opportunities to deepen them further.