By Nane Atshemian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian sought on Thursday to lower expectations from the upcoming meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, denying reports that they could sign a peace accord on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Oskanian insisted that Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian will instead try to overcome sticking points that are hampering further progress in the peace process mediated by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Aliev and Kocharian are expected to meet in Warsaw or Moscow next month.
The Minsk Group’s U.S., Russian and French co-chairs raised fresh hopes for a peaceful settlement when they said in a joint statement last Friday that the process has entered a “sensitive juncture, where a first step towards an agreement … could be at hand.” The statement coincided with the mediators’ “proximity talks” in London with Oskanian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
Commenting on those talks, Oskanian said he and Mammadyarov were separately asked by the troika to name “the one or two most important issues which need to be discussed by the presidents in Warsaw or Moscow.”
“It’s not that we agreed on something and have to put it before the presidents to get their approval,” he told a news conference. “We don’t need to arrange a meeting between the two presidents in order to do that. I can do that in Yerevan and my counterpart can do that in Baku.”
“On the contrary, it is the issues on which we failed to reach agreement that will be put before the presidents so that they try to find a solution to those issues and instruct us how to act in further negotiations,” he added without elaborating.
The Minsk Group statement said the mediators plan to hold another round of talks with the two foreign ministers in Frankfurt on April 27. But Oskanian called the wisdom of that meeting into question earlier this week.
Oskanian was on Thursday quoted by Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh, as having plaid down the significance of the London talks. “He told me that there is nothing serious,” Ghukasian told journalists in Yerevan.
Ghukasian also denied speculation that Armenia’s government has softened its position on Karabakh by indicating its readiness to embrace a gradual resolution of the conflict and publicly stressing the need for major concessions to Azerbaijan. Still, he appeared to be displeased with the latest talk of a compromise deal with Azerbaijan coming from Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and other officials in Yerevan.
“Because Azerbaijan doesn’t speak of any concessions, I think it makes no sense to talk about our concessions,” Ghukasian said. “We must convince Azerbaijan that it has a lot to concede. The Azerbaijani leadership thinks that the international community should give it back Karabakh as a present. I consider that unserious and absurd.”
The Karabakh leader also made it clear that the Armenian side must not agree to return occupied Azerbaijani territories without a determination of Karabakh’s status. “I believe that agreement on Karabakh’s status is key to Karabakh’s security,” he said.
By contrast, Sarkisian and other officials in Yerevan have spoken of other international guarantees of continued Armenian control over the disputed region. Sarkisian said late last month that those could include an international pledge to hold a referendum of independence in Karabakh in the future.