By Emil Danielyan and Anna Saghabalian
Armenia and Azerbaijan on Friday made differing assessments of the latest peace talks between their presidents, with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian saying that progress reportedly made by them is overstated by the Azerbaijani side.
His Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov insisted, however, that Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian agreed on all but one of the basic principles of a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict favored by international mediators.
“As I have always pointed out, in the process of Karabakh settlement there are eight or nine principles, on most of which we have agreed,” Mammadyarov told the Day.az online news agency, commenting on Tuesday’s meeting in Minsk of Aliev and Kocharian. “And we can now say that there remains only one [unresolved] issue. If we manage to make progress on it as well, it will be possible to speak of a breakthrough.”
Mammadyarov refused to disclose that issue, saying that it is “very sensitive.” His remarks are in tune with Aliev’s remarkably positive assessment of the Minsk talks. The Azerbaijani leader declared on his return from the Belarusian capital that the conflicting parties are nearing the “final stage” of the Karabakh peace process.
While confirming that the talks were “positive” and “constructive,” Oskanian clearly did not share Aliev’s optimism. “It is really hard to say what stage were are in,” he told a news conference in Yerevan. “So I wouldn’t like to say that we are in the final stage. We still have numerous unresolved issues to deal with.”
“There is still the question of bringing Nagorno-Karabakh into the negotiations,” continued Oskanian. “If Mr. Aliev thinks that we have really entered the final stage, then he must immediately agree to Nagorno-Karabakh’s participation [in the negotiations]. Because without Nagorno-Karabakh’s participation, at least in that final stage, the problem’s resolution is just impossible.”
Oskanian stressed at the same time that the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani summit was more successful than the two previous Aliev-Kocharian meetings in February and June. “I can say that the negotiations are not in deadlock,” he said. “I could not say this with the same certainty after the previous meetings.”
Both Oskanian and Mammadyarov said they and the U.S., Russian and French mediators will likely meet in Brussels next week to discuss their next steps. The Azerbaijani official also did not rule out the possibility of another Aliev-Kocharian encounter before the end of this year. He said the parties and the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group would like to hammer out a compromise peace accord “as soon as possible” because of Armenia’s approaching parliamentary elections.
“There are doubts about which party will win the elections,” explained Mammadyarov.
Despite the reported progress in the negotiating progress, the two sides continue to stand, at least in public, by their diametrically opposite positions on Karabakh’s future status, the main bone of contention. Azerbaijan’s leadership insists that it is only prepared to give Karabakh a high degree of autonomy, while the Armenians reject any settlement that would place the disputed territory under Azerbaijani control.
“These two seemingly contradictory principles can be reconciled only by means of a referendum [in Karabakh],” Oskanian said. “The agreement [proposed by the Minsk Group] does contain the idea of a referendum on which negotiations have been going on.”
Mammadyarov countered that such a vote must not run counter to the Azerbaijani constitution that considers Karabakh an inalienable part of Azerbaijan.