By Hrach Melkumian
Russia’s and France’s top Nagorno-Karabakh negotiators met with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Tuesday to discuss details of the upcoming fresh round of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks which they said could mark further progress toward the conflict’s resolution.
Yuri Merzlyakov and Bernard Fassier arrived in Yerevan from Karabakh where they accompanied officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on a fact-finding trip to Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan surrounding the disputed enclave.
The OSCE mission led by a senior German diplomat, Emily Haber, spent more than a week touring the vast area occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 199-94 war with Azerbaijan. Haber and members of her team were tasked with investigating Azerbaijani claims that the lands have been illegally populated by Armenians.
The OSCE representatives were still in the Armenian capital as of late Tuesday, avoiding any contact with media. They are due to submit a report on their findings to the OSCE’s Minsk Group on Karabakh which is co-chaired by Merzlyakov, Fassier and their U.S. counterpart, Stephen Mann.
“It is still early to speak of conclusions to be made by the report,” the Russian co-chair told RFE/RL after the meeting with Oskanian. “It is not yet ready. Members of the mission are still working on it.”
“We simply informed the minister that logistically the mission went very well,” he said, praising the authorities in Stepanakert for cooperating with the OSCE officials.
The OSCE inspection was organized as a result of a compromise agreement between the conflicting parties and the mediators that prevented a vote in the UN General Assembly on an Azerbaijani draft resolution condemning the decade-long occupation of the seven Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Karabakh.
The draft resolution was endorsed by many Islamic nations but the United States, Russia and France warned that it would hamper their peace efforts. Merzlyakov said he hopes Baku will not seek to revive it after the fact-finding trip.
The Russian and French envoys said they also discussed with Oskanian preparations for yet another meeting in Prague of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. Azerbaijani media reports have said the meeting is tentatively scheduled for March, but Merzlyakov said no final dates have been set yet.
Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov announced no far-reaching agreements after their most recent Prague talks held last month. They reportedly discussed a peace deal that envisages a gradual solution to the Karabakh dispute.
Asked whether a breakthrough can be expected this year, Merzlyakov said, “I can not make forecasts on time frames. We hope that there will be is progress, if not breakthrough.”
“We hope that there will be progress,” Fassier said for his part. “But progress is not yet a breakthrough.”
(Photolur photo: Fassier, left, Mann, center, and Merzlyakov speaking with journalists in Yerevan before proceeding to Stepanakert on January 30.)