By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian was on Tuesday highly pessimistic about prospects for a near-term resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, saying that it is not considered urgent by both the conflicting parties and international mediators.
Arzumanian claimed that the replacement of the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Mann, was a clear indication that Washington no longer hopes that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will cut a framework peace deal this year. “It was obvious to me that if those upbeat statements [made by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs earlier this year] led nowhere, then some face-saving steps would be taken,” he told RFE/RL. “This is one such step.”
“The appointment of a new [U.S.] co-chair is just a way to prolong or review the process,” he added.
Mann was replaced by a more high-ranking U.S. diplomat, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, following the collapse of the June 4-5 talks in Bucharest between Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian. The two leaders all but dashed hopes for a quick solution to the Karabakh dispute.
The mediators seem to be still trying to salvage the peace process, having arranged a fresh meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Paris last week. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister said at the weekend that they want him and Armenia’s Vartan Oskanian to meet again soon.
Arzumanian insisted, however, that international pressure on the parties is still not strong enough because Karabakh peace is “neither imperative nor vital” for France, Russia and the United States. “The Karabakh conflict’s being unresolved is not a big threat to strategic U.S. interests,” he said. “The same is true for France and the European Union in general. As for Russia, it has never been interested in seeing the small nations and peoples of the region live in peace.”
Arzumanian, who had served as foreign minister in the cabinet of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian from 1996-98, also claimed that both Baku and Yerevan are not interested in a compromise settlement. “Any compromise would be painful for both Armenia and Azerbaijan. And because experience shows that the Karabakh issue is a brilliant trump card for seizing power, any president will think twice before accepting a compromise solution,” he said.
The ex-minister was clearly referring to the fact that Ter-Petrosian was forced by his key ministers, including then Prime Minister Kocharian, to step down in 1998 after advocating more concessions to Azerbaijan. Kocharian supporters may counter that the current Armenian leader has not rejected any international peace plans since then.
Still, Ter-Petrosian allies are convinced that Kocharian has been happy with the apparent rejection by Azerbaijan of peace proposals made by the Minsk Group in recent years. “He came to power to drag out a settlement,” said Arzumanian.
Arzumanian also reiterated Ter-Petrosian’s belief that the Karabakh status quo is more detrimental to Armenia than its oil-rich foe. “The  regime change pushed Armenia several years back,” he said. “As a consequence, Armenia is in complete international isolation and not involved in any regional project, and Armenian democracy is now far more comparable to the political systems of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.”