By Emil Danielyan and Harry Tamrazian in Prague
The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict may again be on the cards following the latest meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, senior officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Monday.
"Hope is emerging especially as concerning Nagorno-Karabakh," the OSCE’s chairman-in-office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, was reported to declare in Brussels as he opened a meeting of foreign ministers of 56 nations making up the Transatlantic security organization.
The unresolved conflicts in Karabakh and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union are high on the agenda of the two-day conference. De Gucht, whose country holds the OSCE’s rotating presidency, urged fellow ministers to give a new impetus to protracted international efforts to resolve those disputes.
The Belgian official was present, along with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, at the opening of crucial talks between Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian that took place in the Belarusian capital Minsk last Tuesday. Both presidents indicated afterwards that they made further progress towards a mutually acceptable peace accord, with Aliev saying that the Karabakh negotiating process is nearing its “final stage.”
Goran Lennmarker, chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that the Aliev-Kocharian encounter has created a “golden opportunity” for Karabakh peace which must be seized at the Brussels meeting.
Addressing the gathering, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian agreed that the conflicting parties are now close to cutting a compromise peace deal. “The last meeting of presidents gives hope that agreement is possible even on the most problematic issues on which we don't see eye to eye,” he said.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said late last week that the parties have reached agreement on all but one of a dozen basic principles of the conflict’s resolution that have been suggested by American, French and Russian diplomats co-heading the OSCE’s so-called Minsk Group.
Oskanian, however, seemed to deny this as he spoke with RFE/RL by phone later on Monday. “I am not sure that there remains only one [unresolved] issue,” he said.
“Of course, our positions are now close on some difficult issues,” he added. “But since these negotiations are multi-layered -- there are principles and details -- it is really hard to say that we have agreed on eight principles and need to agree only one more principle. I find it difficult to say that.”
The most important of those principles is a referendum on Karabakh’s final status that would take place after the liberation of Armenian-occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper. Oskanian indicated the parties still disagree on important practical modalities of the proposed vote, saying that Azerbaijan has yet to fully accept the Karabakh Armenians’ “right to self-determination.”
(Photolur photo: Karel De Gucht.)