By Ruzanna Stepanian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Friday expressed regret at Azerbaijan’s decision to cancel an internationally mediated meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart scheduled for next week.
Oskanian said the conflicting parties have missed an “opportune moment” to make progress on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “We regret that decision,” he told reporters, adding that it is “very bad” for the future of the stalled peace process.
The meeting between the two foreign ministers in Prague was suggested by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Azerbaijani Foreign Minster Vilayat Guliev on Wednesday unexpectedly refused to attend the talks on the grounds that their agenda is not precise enough.
Oskanian said earlier that the talks should clarify whether a breakthrough on Karabakh could be expected in the coming months. He said Baku should give a final answer as to whether it is willing to revive peace agreements reportedly reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001. Azerbaijan denies the existence of such agreements.
According to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was personally involved in the Key West talks, the U.S., Russian and French mediators did make specific peace proposals to the parties but they were not formally accepted by Azerbaijan.
“Then President Heydar Aliev was actually moving forward quite well, but I think, as I recall it, had great difficulty selling this proposal back home,” Armitage told journalists during a visit to Yerevan. “So I would dispute the statement that agreements were reached. I think there was great progress but they didn’t quite have agreements.”
Armitage also declined to comment on the indefinite postponement of the Prague meeting. “What happened in Prague or what didn’t happen in Prague is water over the dam. I’m just going to look forward to a rapid resumption of the talks,” he said.
The issue was also discussed on Friday by Armenian officials and the European Union’s top representative to the South Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie. “My understanding is that they [the Azerbaijanis] were simply not prepared for that meeting,” Talvitie told a news conference in Yerevan at the end of yet another fact-finding trip to the region.
The Finnish diplomat sought to pun an optimistic spin on the situation, saying that the Karabakh talks have only been postponed. “The process has not been postponed. It’s just one meeting that has been postponed,” he said.