By Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian added to renewed hopes for a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process on Monday, saying that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov made further progress at a meeting in Paris on Friday.
Oskanian described the talks mediated by U.S., Russian and French negotiators as “positive” and “constructive.” “We have not yet managed to bring that issue to a successful resolution,” he told reporters. “But common ground is in sight.”
Oskanian added that he will hold another round of negotiations with Mammadyarov shortly after the mediators’ visit to the region scheduled for mid-July.
Azerbaijani officials also appeared satisfied with the outcome of Mammdyarov’s and Oskanian’s first face-to-face encounter in months. “The pace of meetings and the essence of the discussions, in my opinion, are promising,” Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told the Azerbaijani ANS television at the weekend.
The two ministers were expected to try to build on understandings reportedly reached by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan at a meeting on Warsaw on May 15. The Armenian Foreign Ministry referred to the summit as a “yet another step forward in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
Oskanian cautioned that while the Paris talks proceeded in a “good atmosphere,” he and Mammadyarov failed to live up to the presidents’ expectations. “The presidents took a step forward, albeit a small one, and instructed us to build upon that and find some solution,” he said. “We failed to do that in Paris.”
Speaking to RFE/RL ahead of the Paris meeting last week, Oskanian said the foreign ministers will try to put on paper agreements reportedly reached by the conflicting parties in recent months. He was evasive on the subject on Monday. “You know, I don’t think you need to know whether we worked on a paper or only talked verbally,” he said.
The parties have reportedly been discussing a gradual resolution of the Karabakh dispute. Armenian officials do not deny this, but insist that Karabakh’s future status, the main bone of contention, must be somehow resolved under any peace accord.
Oskanian was also reticent about details of the peace deal discussed by the parties, reiterating only that they are working on “all elements of a package settlement,” including Karabakh’s future status. “Until we have clarity on that issue I find it senseless to discuss other elements,” Oskanian said, referring to recent talk of imminent Armenian withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh.
The current phase of Karabakh peace talks is part of what the parties and the mediators call “the Prague process” that began a year ago and raised fresh hopes for long-awaited peace. U.S. officials now do not rule out the possibility of an agreement being signed as early as this year.
A senior official in the administration of President George W. Bush said earlier this month that the progress towards a peaceful settlement has been “pretty significant.” “But there is no reason to rush the agreement,” the official told RFE/RL in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.