By Aza Babayan in Moscow
A senior Russian diplomat confirmed on Thursday that he and the other international mediators are working on a new peace plan that would try to reconcile Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s diametrically opposite strategies of ending the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
Yuri Merzlyakov, the Russian co-chair of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, said a synthesis of a “step-by-step” settlement of the conflict preferred by Azerbaijan and a single “package” accord demanded by the Armenian side is the only realistic way of breaking the decade-long deadlock in the peace process.
“The co-chairs are now trying to propose a variant of the settlement which would literally allow us to synthesize incompatible things. Namely, those two approaches,” Merzlyakov told RFE/RL in an interview. “In our view, this is possible to do if the parties display good will.”
The new “third-way” strategy of conflict resolution was apparently the main focus of Monday’s meeting in Prague between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. Merzlyakov and the Minsk Group’s French and U.S. co-chairs also took part in it. Armenia’s Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL afterward that he thinks the idea is realistic.
Precisely what practical form that synthesis might take remains unclear, though. Oskanian said it must somehow address the thorny issue of Karabakh’s status, while President Robert Kocharian made it clear on Wednesday that the Armenians will never agree to Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule.
“Karabakh has never been part of an independent Azerbaijan,” Kocharian said, addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. “Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity therefore has nothing in common with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.”
Kocharian’s administration and the NKR leadership have for years insisted on a “package” settlement and nearly secured one during a peace conference on the Florida Island of Key West in April 2001. The Armenians subsequently accused Azerbaijan’s then President Heydar Aliev of backtracking on the deal which would reportedly uphold Armenian control of Karabakh.
Oskanian and other Armenian officials said earlier this year that the only way to push the peace process forward is to revive the Key West agreements. But the latest developments suggest that they are now willing to embrace a more prolonged settlement that could require a liberation of some of the Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan proper before a final agreement on Karabakh’s status.
The step-by-step solution was strongly backed in late 1997 by Kocharian’s predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian who argued that the parties need years of confidence-building measures to be able to agree on Karabakh’s status. His vision of peace was rejected as “defeatist” and risky by his key ministers, including Kocharian, who was Armenia’s prime minister at the time. Ter-Petrosian was eventually forced to step down.