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By Ruzanna Stepanian
The failure of last week’s Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in France bore out official Stepanakert’s skepticism about prospects for a speedy resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a senior Karabakh official said on Thursday.

According to Arman Melikian, a top aide to Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian, the peace process will remain deadlocked as long as Azerbaijan refuses to comes to terms with Armenian control over the disputed territory. He said that was the reason why the two-day peace talks at the Rambouillet chateau near Paris failed to produce an agreement.

“I don’t know what the international community and the co-chairs expected from the meeting,” Melikian told RFE/RL. “Nothing special could have come out of that meeting.”

Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliev failed to agree on the key principles of a peaceful settlement contrary to unusually high expectations from their meeting that were fueled by international mediators and even some Armenian and Azerbaijani officials. Their cautious optimism sharply contrasted with skeptical statements made by Ghukasian and other Karabakh leaders in the run-up to the Rambouillet summit.

Those statements were construed by observers as an indication that the Karabakh leadership is unhappy with a peace accord discussed by Baku and Yerevan. It would enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to decide its status in a referendum after a gradual liberation of most Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan proper.

Melikian, who served as Ghukasian’s foreign minister until recently, admitted that the government of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not enthusiastic about that formula. “Azerbaijan’s ruling elite and public in general must be prepared for Karabakh’s independence, whether through referendum or otherwise,” he said. “But that realization is totally absent. I therefore find it inappropriate to even talk about a referendum.”

Melikian said the NKR’s continuing exclusion from the peace talks is also a “serious obstacle” to peace. “No lasting solution is possible without the acceptance of Nagorno-Karabakh’s position,” he said.

The American, French and Russian mediators acting under aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are due to meet in Washington early next month to discuss ways of salvaging the peace process. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Tuesday that the parties may still build on recent months’ progress and strike a deal this year.

(Photolur photo: Arman Melikian.)
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