By Emil Danielyan
International mediators declined to shed light on their next steps after two days of consultations in Washington late Thursday, saying only that they still see “highly favorable” conditions for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict this year.
In a joint statement, the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group expressed regret at the collapse of last month’s Armenian-Azerbaijani summit at Rambouillet, France. They urged both conflicting parties to “build on the basic principles for a future settlement that have already been developed in order to achieve an agreement in 2006.”
“The Co-Chairs continue to believe that objective conditions make 2006 a highly favorable year for substantial progress, and they call upon the Governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan to work vigorously to achieve this result,” the statement said. “The Co-Chairs further call upon the Government of each country to take steps with their publics to prepare them for peace, and not for war,” it added in a clear reference to the latest verbal exchanges between Baku and Yerevan.
The Washington meeting was widely expected to be followed by fresh talks between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The mediators said nothing about that, revealing instead plans to visit the conflict zone soon.
“The Co-Chairs will decide on their next trip to the region after further assessment of the readiness of the parties. Their next meeting is planned for 20 March in Istanbul,” read their statement.
The Istanbul meeting will come after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried’s visit to Baku and Yerevan scheduled for next week. The senior Bush administration official will be accompanied by the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Steven Mann, suggesting that the Karabakh conflict will top the agenda of his talks. Fried’s deputy Matthew Bryza said in Yerevan earlier this week that the parties remain “very close” to cutting a framework peace deal despite the Rambouillet setback.