By Karine Kalantarian
Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian on Wednesday played down recent months’ progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks, saying that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict is still not on the cards.
He voiced skepticism about chances of a breakthrough after talks in Yerevan with international mediators who are touring the region ahead of a potentially decisive meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group met with President Robert Kocharian later in the day and will proceed to Baku on Thursday.
“I am of the opinion that we are pretty far from a settlement today,” Ghukasian told reporters. “The co-chairs openly state that 2006 is an optimal time for settling the issue. But this is a mere desire.”
The remarks contradicted growing indications that the conflicting parties are inching closer to a long-awaited peace deal. The foreign ministers of the OSCE member states said in a statement last week that the parties are now “poised to make the transition from negotiation to decision.” The optimism was echoed by senior U.S. and European Union officials.
“We hope very much that the year 2006 may be a year in which a solution may begin to move,” the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on Tuesday after talks in Brussels with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers.
“I share Mr. Solana’s optimism,” Armenia’s Vartan Oskanian told a joint news conference. “2005 was a productive year.”
Oskanian said earlier that further progress in the peace process hinges on the results of the meeting of Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev which is expected to take place next month. Kocharian’s office said in a brief statement the Armenian leader and the Minsk Group troika discussed details of that meeting but gave no details.
The co-chairs refused to speak to journalists after meeting Ghukasian. Russia’s Yuri Merzlyakov said only that they are in a hurry to make unspecified oral proposals to Kocharian. The mediators are scheduled to hold a news conference in Yerevan on Thursday.
“There are no new proposals,” said Ghukasian. “There are simply different versions of their approaches to an or another issue.”
The parties have reportedly been discussing a phased settlement that would allow the predominantly Armenian population of Karabakh to decide the disputed region’s status in a referendum. The vote would presumably follow the liberation of all but one of the seven Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh that were occupied by Armenian forces during the war.
Ghukasian was on Wednesday confident that the Karabakh Armenians will eventually get involved in the ongoing peace talks between Baku and Yerevan. “Many issues have been left out of this negotiation framework and those issues need to be addressed,” he said without elaborating.
“I don’t think that Robert Kocharian or anybody else can do this single-handedly,” he added. “The conflict will not be settled secretly. If we agree on something, it will be presented to the people.”
(Photolur photo: Ghukasian, left, meeting with the mediators.)