By Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan
International mediators working on a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have postponed their new, crucial round of shuttle diplomacy until next month at the request of Azerbaijan’s newly elected President Ilham Aliev, Armenian officials confirmed on Tuesday.
The French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were expected to make what one of them described as a new “decisive” push for peace shortly after the October 15 presidential vote in Azerbaijan. But President Robert Kocharian said late last month that their planned trip to Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert will likely take place in late November because the Azerbaijani leadership is “not prepared” to receive the negotiators earlier.
The information was subsequently confirmed by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev. Azerbaijani media quoted him as saying that Ilham Aliev, who inherited power from his critically ill father Heydar amid allegations of vote rigging and opposition protests, is now busy “dealing with a number of important issues.”
Guliev’s Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, told reporters on Tuesday that the co-chair’s visit has now been tentatively scheduled for the first week of December. But he was quick to add that no final dates have been fixed yet.
It was expected earlier that the mediators will tour the zone of conflict with new peace proposals. “The parties’ attitude towards the proposals with which the co-chairs will arrive here in late October or early November will probably be decisive,” Russia’s chief Karabakh envoy, Yuri Merzlyakov, said in Yerevan on September 10.
However, Merzlyakov was quoted on Tuesday by the Baku daily “525-ci Qazet” as claiming the opposite. “The Minsk Group co-chairs will not submit to the parties papers with concrete proposals written on them because there are no such proposals,” he said, adding that the mediating troika will only come up with unspecified new “ideas.”
Kocharian likewise said on October 24 that the Armenian side does not anticipate a new peace plan at this point. Other Armenian officials have stressed all along that a new Minsk Group initiative will hardly differ markedly from agreements reached by Kocharian and Heydar Aliev during talks in Paris and Florida in early 2001.
The two leaders were “incredibly close” to hammering out a compromise peace accord even one year after them, according to the chief U.S. negotiator, Rudolf Perina. “The issues of principle have been decided, and what is left are technical differences,” Perina told a conference in Washington in May 2002.
Details of those agreements have not been made public. The Armenian side has only accused Aliev senior of backtracking of them.