By Ruzanna Stepanian
The European Union underscored its increased attention to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on Wednesday when its newly appointed special representative to the South Caucasus singled out the issue during his first official visit to Armenia.
Peter Semneby said after talks with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian that he believes this year is still “particularly auspicious” for resolving the conflict despite the recent collapse of crucial Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. “Indeed, there is a window of opportunity which we need to take advantage of,” he told reporters.
Semneby, who arrived in Yerevan from Baku, said the existing status quo hurts both conflicting parties and the region as a whole. He also reaffirmed the EU’s intention to play a greater role in international efforts to broker a compromise settlement.
Still, the envoy made it clear that the EU believes the peace process should continue to be spearheaded by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States. “The Minsk Group is functioning very well,” he said.
“I conveyed [to Semneby] our view that contrary to various speculations made after [the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in] Rambouillet, the peace process is alive,” Oskanian said for his part. “We believe that there are still possibilities for continuing and making additional progress in the process.”
According to Oskanian, a lot now depends on the results of his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov’s visit to Washington later this week. Mammadyarov is scheduled to meet the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Steven Mann, and other American officials. Oskanian, who met those officials last week, will visit Moscow at around the same time.
“If they register a convergence of views, there will probably be a visit to the region by the co-chairs, which may be followed by a meeting of the [Armenian and Azerbaijani] foreign ministers,” said Oskanian. “But all of this depends on the results of the upcoming Mammadyarov-Mann meeting.”
Mammadyarov’s deputy Araz Azimov, who was also in Washington last week, indicated at the weekend that Baku remains adamant in rejecting a Minsk Group peace plan that would reportedly legitimize Armenian control over Karabakh. “America should understand and Armenia should remember that the Azerbaijani state not only will disagree with the partition of the lands, but also will prevent it,” Azimov told the official AzerTaj news agency.