By Emil Danielyan
A senior aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev demanded on Wednesday that international mediators seek greater Armenian concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh, in a further indication of Baku’s discontent with their existing peace proposals.
Ali Hasanov, who heads the public-political department at Aliev’s staff, warned that failure by the United States, Russia and France to help Azerbaijan restore its territorial integrity will render meaningless activities of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by the three nations.
“We not only expect but demand that the USA and the [other] countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group exert pressure on Armenia,” the Day.az online news service quoted Hasanov as saying. “Who is responsible for the implementation of the UN resolutions [on Karabakh?]. If Russia, France and the USA are turning a blind eye to that, then the existence of the institution of the Minsk Group co-chairs is totally meaningless.”
Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov likewise told the official AzerTaj news agency earlier this month that “America should understand … that the Azerbaijani state will not only disagree with a partition of the lands but also prevent it.”
The remarks came ahead of Aliev’s upcoming visit to Washington during which he will meet President George W. Bush and other top U.S. officials. Bush’s decision to receive Aliev on April 28 came as a surprise given his administration’s unofficial policy of keeping the White House off limits for foreign leaders with poor human rights and democracy records.
Armenia’s Robert Kocharian is believed to have not paid an official visit to Washington throughout his eight-year presidency for that reason. His foreign minister, Vartan Oskanian, has hinted that Bush’s invitation may be part of U.S. efforts to get Aliev to accept the Minsk Group’s most recent peace plan. It reportedly envisages a referendum in Karabakh that would almost certainly legitimize Armenian control over the disputed region. The peace formula seems largely acceptable to Yerevan.
Hasanov confirmed that the Karabakh conflict will be high on the agenda of Aliev’s talks in Washington. “Naturally, the United States does not want the start of a war in the South Caucasus; neither do we,” he said. “We don’t want to spend our oil revenues on military needs. But for the sake of the liberation of our lands we could tap not only our oil revenues but also family revenues. It is important to exert pressure on Armenia in order to prevent war.”
The comment may have been addressed to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried who has reportedly warned Baku against attempting to win back Karabakh by force. Media reports quoted Fried as indicating last week that renewed fighting in Karabakh would strip Azerbaijan of its anticipated large-scale oil revenues.
In a related development, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that he was presented with unspecified “new proposals” on Karabakh during a meeting in Washington with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week. He told Trend news agency that Baku will respond to those proposals during the upcoming visit to the conflict zone by Steven Mann, the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair.
According to France’s chief Karabakh negotiator, Bernard Fassier, the proposals were put forward by Rice on behalf of the Minsk Group troika. Visiting Baku on Tuesday, Fassier said the co-chairs have drawn up a peace accord that enables the parties to “realize their hopes by 80 percent.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also spoke of “new proposals” to resolve the conflict after holding talks with Oskanian in Moscow last Friday. He declined to disclose their content.