By Harry Tamrazian in Brussels
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian spoke of ‘some little progress’ made at the Armenian-Azeri ministerial talks in Brussels earlier this week, but said the “moderate expectations” from the meeting with his Azeri counterpart Elmar Mamedyarov were not fully met.
“A general outline of agreement around the proposals and thoughts voiced during the Moscow meeting and discussed in Paris began to emerge, though I cannot say that this is some complete agreement,” Oskanian told RFE/RL after the meeting on Monday. The minister added that “negotiations should be continued.”
Oskanian found it reassuring that after listening to the sides the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen suggested that the two countries’ presidents should meet on the sidelines of the CIS summit due later this month.
“They are likely to have seen some positive moments in our discussions and based on that made a decision to invite the presidents to such a meeting,” Oskanian said.
“Of course, the presidents will decide whether to accept the invitation or not after listening to their ministers. And for this very reason the cochairmen will pay a visit to the region next week,” Oskanian said, adding that the international negotiators are expected in Yerevan on November 21.
The minister reiterated that the expression of the Karabakh people’s will remains a key principle for Armenia at the talks.
“This is one of the key issues, and, of course, it is essential to the Armenian side,” Oskanian said. “Whether it is done through a referendum or in some other way, the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination must be stated in the document that should serve as a means for resolution.”
To the question whether he felt any change in Azerbaijan’s tough position during the meeting, the minister said: “I can say only that the atmosphere was quite positive. It was a constructive meeting, some serious discussion went on, some thoughts were expressed.”
“I cannot say that we made concrete arrangements, but the bottomline of those discussions is that positions have in some way moved closer together,” Oskanian said. “We want to consider it to be a flexible approach, a compromise, I don’t want to give qualifications. I can only state that some general outline of agreement appeared to have emerged during that meeting.”
Assessing Russia’s role in the Karabakh peace process, the Armenian minister praised this country’s constructive position. “Russia’s approaches have always been consonant with those of the other cochairmen,” he said.
Evaluating the Armenia Action Plan as part of the EU new neighborhood policy, the minister emphasized that “with the adoption of this document Armenia has raised its relations with the European Union to a qualitatively new level.”
“It holds out serious prospects before us to move towards closer integration in that structure and deepen our relationship,” Oskanian said. “This program has a five-year duration, it has a solid financial basis, it well serves its purpose, and, indeed, Armenia can benefit from it immensely if it implements it properly.”
“I’ve said on many occasions that if we manage to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by this program, in five years Armenia can be a politically and economically different state,” the minister underscored. “And we, indeed, must be consistent in its realization.”
Speaking about the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Armenia, Oskanian said: “One of the key questions raised during the meeting of the EU-Armenia Cooperation Council was our future elections. Our future elections have been high on the agenda of any bilateral meeting I’ve had in the past few months. It has been so much talked about that we, indeed, have no room for mistake this time around.”
The minister urged all political forces and the public to work together to hold qualitatively better elections, as otherwise, he says, ‘Armenia has much to lose’.
“Armenia’s further democratic development largely depends on the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections,” Oskanian emphasized.
While in Brussels, Oskanian also participated in the closed meeting of the foreign ministers of the three South Caucasus states with EU representatives. He said the whole spectrum of issues in the region, including the continuing standoff between Russia and Georgia, was discussed by the parties.
According to Oskanian, Armenia has friendly relations with both Russia and Georgia and wants to preserve its impartial attitude. At the same time, the Armenian minister is concerned over more tensions emerging in the relations between these two countries, which, according to him, is against Armenia’s political and economic interests.
“We want to see good relations between Russia and Georgia in the interest of the whole region,” Oskanian stressed. He denied that Russia has exerted any pressure on Armenia to cooperate with it against Georgia.
“Such thoughts may have been voiced within public circles in Russia that expected Armenia to cooperate on that matter. But I assure you that no such position was officially expressed to Armenia. Armenia has not taken sides in this standoff and will continue to appear from neutral positions,” the Armenian minister concluded.