By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Nagorno-Karabakh negotiating process will not be put on hold despite President Robert Kocharian’s pledge not to cut any peace deals with Azerbaijan before next spring’s Armenian parliamentary elections, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Tuesday.
“In any case, the process will continue at the level of foreign ministers,” he said. “Perhaps there will be fewer meetings with less publicity. But I think negotiations on the content [of peace proposals] will continue.”
Kocharian announced on Friday there will be “no active negotiating process” in the next few months because his political opponents would exploit even the most pro-Armenian solution to the Karabakh conflict to do well in the elections.
None of Armenia’s main opposition groups represented in parliament has explicitly rejected the existing peace plan put forward by international mediators, though. Nor have their leaders threatened to stage street protests against the proposed deal that calls for a referendum on Karabakh’s status.
Azerbaijani government officials were quick to accuse Yerevan of using the upcoming elections as an excuse to drag out the peace process. Oskanian insisted, however, that Armenian-Azerbaijani talks will continue next year, albeit in a more “passive” format. “It will be an election year and all the attention will be focused on the elections,” he told reporters. “But I think the process will not suffer from that in the substantive sense.”
Asked whether the conflicting parties may sign a peace accord shortly after the 2007 elections, Oskanian said: “I don’t exclude anything.”
Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev renewed hopes for a peaceful settlement after their last meeting held in Minsk on November 28. The mediators hoped that they will meet again before the end of this month to try to build on the progress. But another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit now looks extremely unlikely.
According to Oskanian, the mediators are now trying to arrange yet another meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers next month.