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By Harry Tamrazian in Prague and Emil Danielyan
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan failed to break the stalemate over Nagorno-Karabakh during their latest negotiations in Paris, dealing a further blow to hopes for the conflict’s settlement this year.

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov spoke for several hours in the presence of French and Russian mediators on Tuesday, just over one week after similar talks between their presidents did not yield a breakthrough. Neither side reported on Wednesday any progress towards the signing of a framework peace agreement sought by the mediating powers.

Oskanian told RFE/RL that he and Mammadyarov tried to reach agreement on an unspecified stumbling block which precluded a breakthrough in the June 4-5 negotiations in Bucharest between Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian. “I can’t say that we succeeded in doing that,” he said. “Nonetheless, it was a useful discussion and there will be a continuation of our meetings.”

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement that the two ministers discussed unspecified “principles of and approaches to a peaceful settlement on which the parties have disagreements.” A ministry statement said they only agreed to “continue negotiations aimed reconciling their positions.”

Mammadyarov’s deputy Araz Azimov also admitted a lack of progress at the Paris talks and laid the blame on the Armenian side. “The Armenian delegation remained adherent to their old position and acted in line with it,” Azimov told the Azerbaijani ANS television on Wednesday. “We did not see constructivism which we had expected from them.”

“The ministers have agreed that the meetings should be continued. The process will go on and the next step will be defined in the near future,” he added.

Azimov was quoted by other Azerbaijani media as saying separately that chances for finding a solution to the Karabakh dispute before the end of 2006 remain “high.” But he stressed that any peaceful settlement that would fall short of restoring Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity” is unacceptable to Baku.

Armenia, however, insists on Azerbaijani recognition of the Karabakh Armenians’ “right to self-determination,” something which essentially mean coming to terms with Armenian control over the disputed territory.

Aliev and Kocharian clearly failed to bridge this gap at Bucharest. Officials in Baku and Yerevan say the two leaders may meet again later this year in a last-ditch attempt to use what the mediators have described as a “golden opportunity” to end the Karabakh conflict.

But Oskanian admitted that this will hardly happen unless he and Mammadyarov agree on at least some of the remaining sticking points. “Unless there is even a slight convergence of our positions, another meeting of the presidents won’t make much sense,” he said.

Incidentally, no U.S. diplomats were present at their Paris meeting, in what may be a sign that Washington, the main driving force behind the Karabakh peace process, is losing hope for a near-term Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord. The U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Mann, was relieved of his duties following the Bucharest fiasco and will be moved to another position at the U.S. State Department soon. Oskanian confirmed reports that Mann will be replaced by Matthew Bryza, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.

(Itar-Tass-Photolut photo: Mammadyarov and Oskanian meeting in Moscow in August 2005.)
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