By Emil Danielyan
The next and potentially crucial round of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh, scheduled for Wednesday, has been postponed due to Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s illness, official Yerevan said on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Sedrak Bejanian, told RFE/RL that the meeting between Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov may still take place in Prague later this week. “Everything depends on the minister’s health condition,” he said.
Oskanian is said to be suffering from an acute cold. He has not been seen in public ever since returning from a visit to Equatorial Guinea a week ago.
Meanwhile, Mammadyarov was already in Prague on Monday. Azerbaijani media, citing the Foreign Ministry in Baku, said the meetings mediated by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group will take place in Paris on Thursday.
Bejanian did not confirm or refute the information. “Nothing can be ruled out,” he said.
The planned talks are part of what the conflicting parties call “the Prague process.” It began last year and raised new hopes for a breakthrough in the protracted search for Karabakh peace. Speaking after his most recent encounter with Mammadyarov in the Czech capital on January 11, Oskanian said the “second phase” of that process could prove decisive.
The mediators are also cautiously optimistic. “We hope that there will be progress,” the chief French negotiator, Bernard Fassier, said on February 8.
For his part, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans argued in a recent speech in California that the current situation bodes well for the conflict’s resolution as neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is nearing an election. Addressing a group of Armenian-Americans, Evans also reportedly stated that “Karabakh can't be given back to Azerbaijan.”
The extraordinary remark drew protests from Azerbaijan. Baku’s ambassador in Washington, Hafiz Pashaev, said he was assured by senior U.S. State Department officials that Evans had expressed his personal opinion.
In a statement on Monday, the U.S. envoy said he regrets “misunderstandings” caused by his comments but stopped short of retracting them.
In his California speech quoted by an Armenian-American lobbying group, Evans also confirmed that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones did not mean Nagorno-Karabakh when she claimed in a newspaper interview last January that disputed regions in the former Soviet Union are ruled by “criminal secessionists.” But he made it clear that Jones did not apologize to Yerevan for the remark as was claimed by Oskanian.
Jones’s statement provoked an uproar in Armenia that was whipped up by its government.
"Too much was made of the comment,” Evans was reported to say, advising the Armenians to ignore the gaffe and “get on with life.”