By Hrach Melkumian Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian denied through a spokesman on Monday his Azerbaijani counterpart Heydar Aliev’s claims that the two leaders discussed recently the possibility of lifting Azerbaijan’s blockade of Armenia in exchange for a partial return of occupied Azerbaijani territories.
His press secretary, Vahe Gabrielian, said Aliev made only a “faint hint” at the idea, opposed by the Armenian side, during their face-to-face meeting at the Sadarak section of the Armenian Azerbaijani border on August 14.
Aliev accused the Armenian side of following an intransigent line on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the weekend, according to agency reports from Baku. Aliev complained to visiting international mediators that he offered to reopen rail communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia if Kocharian ensures the return of four out of six Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh occupied during the 1992-994 war.
Meeting with the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Aliev said he was told by Kocharian that Armenia’s struggling economy “does not need” a rail link with Russia via Azerbaijan. He said this stance shows that long-standing Armenian complaints about negative effects of the Azerbaijani blockade are baseless.
“This idea is not new and it was not discussed at Sadarak. There was just a faint hint at it,” Gabrielian told RFE/RL. “Such proposals were voiced by the Azerbaijani side in the past and they were always rejected.” The most recent such discussion took place between Armenian and Azerbaijani presidential envoys in Prague this summer, he added.
The proposed interim peace deal is a modified version of the so-called phased resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would delay indefinitely agreement on Karabakh’s status -- the main bone of contention. The current leadership of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic find that option too risky, pushing instead for a “package” peace accord.
Kocharian’s press secretary, Vahe Gabrielian, reaffirmed that line. He said: “The conflict has to be settled in a packaged manner and no component must be taken out of the package. The question of [Azerbaijani] territories, which serve as a security zone for Karabakh is an integral part of that package.”
Aliev and Kocharian ended their four-meeting at Sadarak on an optimistic note. However, they stopped short of announcing a breakthrough on any of the sticking points. The two leaders are expected to meet again on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Moldova next week.
Aliev on Saturday renewed his criticism of the mediators, saying that the Azerbaijani people are losing hope for a peaceful settlement of the conflict because of their unproductive activities. "The people's mood is changing. They are starting to lose hope in a peaceful solution and are coming to the view that we have to recover our land ourselves by whatever means necessary," AFP quoted Aliev as saying.
"It has been...nearly 10 years since the Minsk Group was created," he added. "How much longer can we go on talking about a peace settlement?"
But Russia’s chief Karabakh negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, defended the group's work. "The Minsk Group has not failed," he told reporters after meeting Aliev. "We should continue our work. In Baku and in Yerevan we got confirmation of this view and we will continue our work."
The Minsk Group troika visited Yerevan and Stepanakert earlier last week.