By Hrach Melkumian and Gevorg Stamboltsian
Steven Mann, the new U.S. chief negotiator on Nagorno-Karabakh, paid an unexpected and low-key visit to Yerevan on Thursday which officials said focused on international efforts to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
Mann had separate meetings with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian for the second time in six weeks. No details of the talks were made public, with the U.S. envoy declining to comment on the purpose of his trip and the current status of the peace process. “I am just having talks with the Armenian government,” he told RFE/RL without elaborating.
A brief statement by Kocharian’s office said Mann discussed with the Armenian leader the Karabakh conflict and informed him about his talks held with Azerbaijani leaders in Baku on Wednesday. Earlier in the day officials in the presidential administration could not confirm the precise time of the meeting, suggesting that it was arranged at a short notice.
Mann’s previous trip to Yerevan was followed by a meeting in Poland between Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mamedyarov met in Strasbourg two weeks later, emerging from it with cautiously optimistic statements. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said the two ministers will meet again in Prague on June 21, adding that Oskanian and the U.S. mediator spoke about details of that meeting.
Speaking at Yerevan State University earlier on Thursday, Oskanian said that the negotiation process is “not on a bad track” at the moment and is “following in the footsteps of previous talks.” “I think that in the next two months we will have more clarity as to whether we can build on the base that has been created during all these years…or Azerbaijan wants to divert that process to another direction,” he said, reiterating Yerevan’s hopes of reviving peace accords reportedly reached by the parties three years ago.
Mamedyarov similarly stated last week that the peace talks are “intensifying” after a period of stagnation. Azerbaijan seems to be pushing for a new strategy of conflict resolution whereby agreement on Karabakh’s status would be preceded by the return of Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani lands around the disputed region in exchange for the restoration of economic links between the two nations.
Oskanian repeated the Armenian side’s insistence on a single “package” accord that would resolve all contentious issues. He added that it will agree to a phased settlement only if the majority of Armenians want so. “If there is really a public consensus that we should go for a phased solution, then we will have no problem,” he said. “But to be honest, I don’t see popular demand for a phased solution.”