By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian will fly to Romania’s capital Bucharest on Sunday to attend a summit of Black Sea nations and hold make-or-break talks on Nagorno-Karabakh with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev.
Kocharian’s office confirmed on Friday that the meeting with Aliev, the second in four months, will take place on the sidelines of the high-level forum on Monday.
The two leaders are facing growing pressure from mediating powers to reach a framework agreement on a gradual settlement of the Karabakh conflict. The mediators appear to regard the Bucharest meeting as their last chance to broker a compromise solution to the dispute in the near future.
High-ranking diplomats from France, Russia and the United States underlined the high expectations of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group as they paid an extraordinary joint visit to Baku and Yerevan last week. They emphasized in a statement that “now is the time for the sides to reach agreement on the basic principles of a settlement.”
“We are at the point where a mutually beneficial agreement is achievable,” the mediators said, highlighting substantial progress made in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks in the last two years.
A statement by Kocharian’s press service said the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will start their talks in the presence of their foreign ministers, the Minsk Group co-chairs and the OSCE’s current chairman-in-office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht. “The two heads of state will then continue their conversation in a tête-à-tête format,” the statement said.
Aliev and Kocharian are expected to try to cut a peace deal that would enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed region’s status in a referendum. The referendum would reportedly be held at least one decade after the start of a gradual Armenian pullout from six of the seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh.
The conflicting parties were believed to have agreed on the key terms of such a deal ahead of the last Aliev-Kocharian encounter that took place at the chateau of Rambouillet near Paris on February 10-11. However, the Rambouillet talks failed to produce any agreement. Aliev has since repeatedly declared that Azerbaijan will never agree to Karabakh’s independence or reunification with Armenia.
In a May 28 address to the nation, Aliev also reiterated his view that time works for oil-rich Azerbaijan. "Armenia will not be able to compete with Azerbaijan in the future," he said. "They should think thoroughly, look a bit further ahead and see that the gap
between Azerbaijan and Armenia is growing in all spheres. Our budget has
reached 4.5 billion dollars this year and will increase even more next year."
Aliev seems to be facing more international pressure to embrace a compromise settlement than Kocharian, though. French President Jacques Chirac reportedly pressed him to a pursue a “peaceful, negotiated settlement” in a meeting in Paris on Tuesday. Chirac had already urged Aliev not to miss the “unique opportunity” for Karabakh peace in a written message sent to Baku a few days earlier. The Azerbaijani leader also received last week a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush that contained a similar wish.
There have been no reports of Bush or Chirac communicating with Kocharian in recent weeks.