By Emil Danielyan
President Ilham Aliev again rejected any solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would not put the Armenian-controlled territory back under Azerbaijani control ahead of talks with a visiting top U.S. negotiator on Tuesday.
“Azerbaijan will never -- neither today, nor tomorrow and under no circumstances -- agree to Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan,” Aliev told his cabinet in remarks reported by Azerbaijani newspapers on Tuesday. “The issue of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity can not be a subject of negotiations.”
Aliev and his Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov were meeting later in the day with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, Washington’s chief Karabakh negotiator. “I do not have much to tell you at the moment,” the Azerbaijani ANS television quoted Bryza as telling reporters in Baku. “Actually, there is nothing [new] to speak about.”
Aliev has repeatedly demanded restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh in recent months amid fading hopes for an Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement which international mediators hoped will be signed this year. However, a framework peace accord proposed by a team of American, French and Russian mediators seems to allow for the possibility of Karabakh’s independence or reunification with Armenia. The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group favor a gradual resolution of the dispute that would culminate in a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh.
Bryza, who is the group’s U.S. co-chair, confirmed at the weekend that under the terms of the proposed deal, the disputed region’s status would be decided by the “people of Karabakh.” He indicated that this includes the region’s former Azerbaijani residents that were forced to flee their homes during the 1991-94 war.
Bryza spoke with RFE/RL in Yerevan after holding talks with President Robert Kocharian and before proceeding to Stepanakert where he met with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Arkady Ghukasian, the NKR president, told reporters after the meeting that he briefed Bryza on the Stepanakert government’s position on the conflict which he said is “somewhat different from the approaches favored by the co-chairs.” “I think Mr. Bryza understands that it is impossible to settle the conflict without the NKR’s participation,” he said. “Not only he but all the co-chairs realize that.”
However, Bryza made it clear in his RFE/RL interview that it is the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan that must have the final say in the peace process. He downplayed in that regard the fact that he is apparently the most high-ranking U.S. government official to ever visit Karabakh.
“There is no statement of any sort that should be read from my visit to Stepanakert other than that I am going there in my sole capacity as a co-chair so I can understand better what the situation and what the views are of the people that are living in Karabakh,” Bryza said.