By Emil Danielyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian has reaffirmed Armenia’s overall acceptance of the international mediators’ most recent proposal to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which calls for a self-determination referendum on the disputed territory’s status.
“This not a perfect document. For anyone,” Oskanian said in a written interview with the official Armenpress news agency released late Thursday. “However, there are enough solid and balanced provisions, with the right trade-offs on the main issues – status, territories and security – that we are prepared to continue to negotiate on the basis of these principles.”
Oskanian said the content of the peace plan put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group is at odds with Azerbaijani leaders’ continuing rejection, in public, of any settlement that does not restore Azerbaijan’s control over Karabakh. “In today’s context, Azerbaijan’s rhetoric about autonomy and desperate calls for militarization surprise us,” he said, urging Baku to embrace the proposed deal.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, meanwhile, repeated on Thursday that his country’s territorial integrity “could not be a subject of negotiations.” “Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan,” Turan news agency quoted him as saying during a visit to the northern Ujar district.
In a statement made public on Wednesday, the Minsk Group’s American, French and Russian co-chairs officially disclosed the main points of their plan that was discussed by Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian in two rounds of face-to-face talks this year. They confirmed in particular that Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would vote to decide the region’s status years after the liberation of Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The mediators said they envisage “special modalities” for Armenian withdrawal from the Kelbajar and Lachin districts sandwiched between Karabakh and Armenia.
According to Oskanian, the peace plan makes it clear that there must be “a corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.” “For Armenia, it’s very clear that this corridor must have the same status as Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said, in an apparent reference to Lachin.
“For Armenia, this also is clear: based on security concerns, Kelbajar can be returned only after the referendum is conducted and the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh is determined. Azerbaijan’s position is different on Kelbajar,” added Oskanian.
Kelbajar was reportedly a key sticking point that precluded the signing of a framework peace accord by Aliev and Kocharian at their two-day talks outside Paris in February.
In a related development, foreign ministers from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations on Thursday urged the conflicting parties to make more efforts to resolve the Karabakh dispute this year. "We call on Azerbaijan and Armenia to show political will with the aim to reach an agreement this year and prepare their peoples for peace and not for war," they said in a joint statement issued in Moscow.