By Emil Danielyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was “cautiously optimistic” on Tuesday about prospects for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that Armenia and Azerbaijan will soon try to build on their confidential understandings reached earlier this year.
Oskanian based his optimism on the results of his two meetings with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov which took place in Sofia and Brussels last week in the presence of the French, Russian and U.S. mediators.
“We managed to remove the obstacles to the resumption of the second phase of Prague negotiations that arose recently,” he told a news conference, referring to a series of earlier meetings with Mammadyarov. “I think that we will be able to start the second phase on the ministerial level at the beginning of next year.”
“It’s hard to tell at this point what the results will be. But I think we can be cautiously optimistic,” he added.
The Prague talks reportedly materialized into what Oskanian described as “a framework of issues that can serve as a basis” for a future peace accord. The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan discussed them during lengthy talks in Kazakhstan last September but announced no agreements afterward.
This was followed by a renewed diplomatic war between the two Caucasus arch-foes, with Baku trying to get the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution condemning Armenia over the Karabakh conflict. The General Assembly debated the document on November 24 but postponed a vote on it indefinitely at the request of the mediating troika. Yerevan warned that its passage would ruin the peace process.
Oskanian admitted that he is now more upbeat on peace prospects than President Robert Kocharian. The latter declared on November 15 that a breakthrough will be elusive as long as the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) is not a party to the negotiations. But Oskanian made it clear that NKR representatives will not take part in the next round of the talks.
What the two foreign ministers agreed on in the Czech capital remains unknown. Azerbaijani officials have indicated in recent months that the framework deal calls for a partial liberation of some of the Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh before an agreement on the disputed enclave’s status. The Armenian side has until now demanded a single “package” accord on all sticking points.
Oskanian again declined to explicitly deny the Azerbaijani claims. “I don’t want to pay attention to what the Azerbaijani side is presenting to its public,” he said. “What we are discussing creates a general framework for continuing negotiations. I don’t want to go into details now.”
Armenia and the NKR have argued in the past that further progress in the peace process is contingent on Azerbaijan’s return to a package deal cut by Kocharian and the late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001. Aliev was accused by the Armenians of reneging on the agreement that reportedly upheld de facto Armenian control of Karabakh.
Oskanian was equally evasive when asked if his understandings with Mammadyarov are in tune with the Key West formula. “I can only say that there have been no changes in Armenia’s position and what we have today is this general framework which allows us to continue the negotiations,” he said.