By Hrach Melkumian
An irritated President Robert Kocharian accused his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heydar Aliev, on Tuesday of seeking to destabilize the political situation in Armenia with controversial remarks on Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks. Kocharian said Aliev hoped to fan opposition anger in Armenia when he claimed that Yerevan was ready to surrender the strategic Meghri district to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal on Karabakh.
"I guess they thought that they are thereby giving the [Armenian] opposition new material to conduct an active campaign against President Kocharian," he told reporters.
Kocharian further claimed that the Azerbaijani leadership wants to "get rid" of him and deal with a new Armenian president who would be willing to make more concessions on Karabakh. He suggested that Baku was buoyed by the recent attempts in the Armenian parliament to impeach him.
After a year of denial, Aliev on Friday admitted that he and Kocharian had finalized a framework agreement to end the Karabakh dispute at a meeting in Paris in March 2001. But he said the deal envisaged an exchange of territories whereby Azerbaijan would cede its Armenian-occupied Lachin district in exchange for Meghri.
Kocharian on Tuesday endorsed Armenian officials' strong denial of the claims. "We talked only about a sovereign [Lachin] corridor between Armenia and Karabakh," he said. "As for Meghri, we were only talking about a road access [for Azerbaijan]."
Kocharian's spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, said over the weekend that the Paris agreement was "put on paper" at the subsequent peace held on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001 and that Aliev backtracked on it shortly afterwards. Other senior Armenian sources told RFE/RL that Yerevan could ask U.S., Russian and French mediators to publicize the Key West document to prove that Aliev "distorted facts."
However, Kocharian ruled out such a possibility for the time being. "We do have that document. But I think there is no need to make it public now," he said.
He also said his upcoming face-to-face meeting with Aliev, prepared for the past several weeks, will go ahead despite the latter's comments. "We are going to meet, to negotiate further. With less pleasure though," he said.
Armenia's leading opposition parties had accused Kocharian in the past of planning to "sell out" Meghri. But few of them appear ready to revive the issue after Aliev's claims.