By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia and Azerbaijan are inching closer to the resolution of their conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Tuesday after talks with leaders of the two neighboring states.
Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the OSCE’s rotating presidency, told reporters in Yerevan that the conflicting parties are finding it possible to reconcile their diametrically opposite positions following the latest meeting of their presidents. He suggested that a Karabakh peace accord may therefore be reached as early as this year.
“I hope that the positions of the two sides will approach as closely as possible,” Rupel said. “There are signs of that happening.”
“I guess one of the important issues here is the principle of territorial integrity and the principle of self-determination of peoples. I understand that these two principles can be reconciled. This was the message that I got yesterday in Baku and also here in Yerevan,” he added at a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian.
According to the Armenian government’s press office, Rupel made a case for combining the two principles of international law at a meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Markarian found that approach “acceptable,” a government statement said.
While in Yerevan, Rupel also met with Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Arkady Ghukasian of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Kocharian’s office did not release any details of the meeting.
Rupel’s visit to Baku and Yerevan came a week after crucial talks held by Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian in Russian city of Kazan in the presence of international mediators acting under the OSCE aegis. Russia’s chief Karabakh negotiator, Yuri Merzlyakov, described them as “very positive” in an interview with RFE/RL last Friday.
“I don’t want to give any details at this point,” said Oskanian. “But I think Mr. Rupel was very right to say that common ground between the parties on key issues is visible today. That is really the case.”
“But as they say, the devil is in the details and so when we, the [Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign] ministers, start to elaborate on those principles and get into details, we could face serious obstacles,” he cautioned.
Speaking to RFE/RL late on Monday, Ghukasian was more skeptical about chances of a Karabakh settlement. “In my opinion, Azerbaijan is today working in a more constructive manner than it was in the past,” he said. “But it is very difficult to see tangible progress because there are numerous issues that have still not been agreed upon.”
Observers believe that the two sides are unlikely to announce any compromise deals on Karabakh until parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan and a constitutional referendum in Armenia that are slated for November. They have reportedly been discussing a gradual settlement of the conflict that would end in a referendum on independence in Karabakh.