By Nane Atshemian
Armenia and Azerbaijan have yet to achieve a breakthrough in their protracted negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh despite upbeat statements by international mediators, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on Tuesday.
“There was a breakthrough at one point,” Sarkisian told reporters. “But I don’t find it appropriate to talk about it today because time for doing that hasn’t yet come. Push hasn’t yet come to shove. Once it comes, we will talk.”
In a statement issued on Friday, U.S., French and Russian mediators said the peace process has reached a “sensitive juncture, where a first step towards an agreement … could be at hand.” The statement by the three-co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group coincided with a new round of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks in London.
Underscoring their renewed optimism about peace prospects, the mediators urged the conflicting parties to “prepare their populations for a balanced negotiated agreement that will require compromise on both sides.”
Sarkisian again made a case for such compromise. “We can not fail to make mutual concessions,” he said. “The entire people will jointly decide what those concessions will be.”
Sarkisian repeated in this regard that the Armenian side is ready to withdraw from occupied territories in Azerbaijan in exchange for international “security guarantees” for Karabakh. “Karabakh can not be subordinated to Azerbaijan,” he explained. “A second guarantee would be that Karabakh can not exist as an enclave and must have a land border with the Republic of Armenia as well as an ability to take part in progressive international processes.”
The governments of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have until now linked the return of the occupied territories to an agreement on the disputed region’s status. Sarkisian denied that the Armenian side has faced international pressure to soften its stance.
“I have never felt any [international] pressure in any place,” he said. “If there is any pressure, we face it as much as Azerbaijan does.”
Sarkisian’s conversations with journalists have grown more frequent of late, spawning speculation that Yerevan is preparing ground for a compromise peace deal with Azerbaijan. Some observers say they also expose his desire to become Armenia’s next president.
But the defense chief, who is regarded as Armenia’s second most powerful leader, would not be drawn on his presidential ambitions, repeatedly stressing that there are still three years to go before the next presidential election.