By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian heaped praise on a team of French, Russian and U.S. negotiators seeking to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, after meeting them in Stepanakert on Sunday. He said their Minsk Group formed by the OSCE 10 years ago favors a just solution to the Karabakh dispute and should not be blamed for lack of progress so far.
"In my view the Minsk Group is operating in a fairly constructive manner," Ghukasian told reporters. "Unfortunately, everything does not depend on them."
The Minsk Group co-chairs traveled to Karabakh on the last leg of their regional tour aimed at reinvigorating the moribund peace process. They were again reticent about details of their talks over the weekend, saying only that they will announce their further steps in a week.
According to the U.S. representative in the group, Rudolf Perina, the mediators came away satisfied from the meeting with the Karabakh leaders. The chief French negotiator, Philippe de Suremain, said they regard the authorities in Stepanakert as a key player in the negotiating process. "We will not take any steps without consulting with Nagorno-Karabakh," he said.
Suremain added that the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's renewed participation in the peace talks, opposed by Azerbaijan, will be discussed by the broader Minsk Group in Vienna later this week.
"The mediators believe that a settlement is impossible without the consent of the Karabakh people and authorities, and suppose that Karabakh will definitely take part in negotiations as a party to the conflict," Ghukasian said. "But it is difficult to say when that will happen."
The NKR president further commended the mediators for reckoning with "the existing realities" in the zone of conflict - something for which they were strongly criticized by Azerbaijan late last week. Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev complained that the co-chairs want Baku to take into account the status quo and accept Karabakh's de facto independence.