By Harry Tamrazian and Ruzan Khachatrian in Prague
The joint declaration by U.S. and Russian Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin, in which they urge the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to show flexibility and constructive approach in solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, could be an indication of growing frustration on the part of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmen with the lack of progress in the negotiating process.
The Nagorno-Karabakh peace process has become a hostage of domestic politics in Azerbaijan and Armenia, where both presidents have begun their respective campaigns for reelection in 2003, polishing campaign slogans enriched with weighty and uncompromising language about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The OSCE mediators with a certain degree of reluctance readjusted their peace efforts to the fact that any substantial compromise could be a major blow for both leaders, who don't want to jeopardize their chances of re-election by making unpopular concessions.
Azerbaijan today welcomed the U.S.-Russian joint declaration, saying at the same time that both countries should do more. "Russia and the USA should not be satisfied with calls but should exercise direct influence on the process," said presidential administration official Novruz Mammadov. On 24 May President Heidar Aliyev called on Russia to use its influence and speed up the negotiating process. "I think that Russia, more than any other country, can play a decisive role in the peaceful resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict ... and I would like this power to be used," Aliyev said after a meeting with Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the upper house of the Russian parliament.
Analysts in Baku were upbeat over the U.S-Russian joint declaration on Nagorno-Karabakh, hoping that it could result in strong pressure from the two major world powers on the Armenian side to change its "hardline" position on the conflict. Azeri expert Rasim Musabekov admits that domestic politics plays a major role in Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. But economic considerations could also play a decisive role, because the economies of both countries are in very bad shape and the economic benefits of peace in Nagorno-Karabakh would be enormous.
Armenian politicians' reactions to the U.S.-Russian joint declaration were mixed. The leader of the "Dashnak" party parliament faction, Aghvan Vartanian, who supports the president, believes that the pre-election year is not the best time to solve the conflict. According to another pro-presidential politician, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, any effort to solve the conflict before elections is doomed to failure. One of President Robert Kocharian's outspoken critics, opposition faction leader Artashes Geghamian believes that the Bush-Putin message is not for Aliyev or Kocharian but rather for the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Bush-Putin declaration, according to Geghamian, is a call to the electorate of both countries to elect politicians who have a clear program of compromises in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.